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Monthslong ‘Putrid’ Odor in Winthrop Dining Hall Draws Student Complaints

Students have complained and speculated about a persistent odor in the Winthrop House dining hall.
Students have complained and speculated about a persistent odor in the Winthrop House dining hall. By Xinyi (Christine) Zhang
By Madeleine A. Hung and Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writers

A persistent odor in the Winthrop House dining hall has drawn student complaints and a range of speculated causes. Students described the smell as “putrid,” likening it to trash and sewage.

Students said they believed the smell might be from a problem with leaky sewage pipes, the nearby trash room, Winthrop’s proximity to the Charles River, or the dining hall’s underground location.

Winthrop’s dining hall was closed for several days in 2005 due to an odor from a drainage problem, though complaints of odors date back to the 1970s.

In response to a student inquiry, Winthrop building manager Sarah Gallant wrote in an email obtained by The Crimson that she is meeting with “House renewal, plumbers, and Siemens” two to three times per week to resolve the smell.

“The team is aware of the challenge and is actively working toward a solution. We will continue to engage the community in the conversation,” College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo wrote in a statement.

Several students said the smell has persisted for more than one year and that it varies in intensity.

Bolu A. Ilelaboye ’25 said he first noticed the smell last spring and described it as “like caca,” the Spanish word for feces.

“Eating and the smell is not a good combination,” Ilelaboye said.

Tomisin M Sobande ’26, a Crimson design editor and resident of Pforzheimer House , said she first noticed the smell a few weeks ago when she was walking through the Winthrop Grille to get to the dining hall.

“It’s quite strong,” Sobande said. “And when you’re walking down the steps, it’s really gradual. So you start to smell a little and then as you get closer to the dhall, it gets stronger — which is suspicious.”

Caleb W. Yee ’25 said the Winthrop dining hall is developing a reputation for the smell, citing that the smell was mentioned in at least one Housing Day video, trailer-like videos produced each year to garner excitement and house pride for freshmen.

Winthrop resident Andrew L. Avila ’25 said that smelling the dining hall as a freshman made him not want to be housed in Winthrop, adding that the smell is “putrid.”

Some students in Winthrop said their friends are more reluctant to join them for meals due to the smell.

“It’s always a real challenge to get people out here,” Avila said.

Angie Gabeau ’25 also said her friends often do not want to eat in Winthrop, though she said she is less bothered by the smell after adjusting to it.

“I feel like I’m really used to there being a weird smell in the dhall, so I definitely recognize when it’s worse than other times,” she said.

Milo J. Clark ’24 could not recall the first time he encountered the smell, but said he had heard about the smell during “pretty much the whole time” he lived at Harvard.

Clark, a resident of Lowell House, added that the smell is “especially potent” when he enters through Winthrop’s front entrance across from Lowell.

“Smelling that — right before you come in here — kills your appetite,” he said.

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

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