As the so-called pee vigilantes at Stillwater Area High School will tell you, the “Let Us Pee” Instagram page was launched initially as a joke, a tongue-in-cheek response to a new school policy limiting the loos that students can use.
The banner image of a raised fist clutching a roll of toilet paper along with the words “Free to Pee” doesn’t exactly inspire thoughts of a sweeping social movement.
Still, the page and its corresponding website — which includes a survey, petition, official mission statement and even a freestyle rap song — have gone way beyond bathroom humor to become popular rallying points for Stillwater students protesting a decision by administrators to lock six of the school’s 14 bathrooms during class time.
“We didn’t anticipate the large-scale reaction to this,” said Principal Rob Bach. “We aren’t the first high school to lock the bathroom when there’s an issue. It’s common practice.”
Starting April 1, Stillwater High administrators decided to lock the bathrooms in an effort to curb vaping and vandalism. They’re briefly reopened during the passing periods between classes, when they’re monitored by teachers.
In many students’ minds, however, the decision punished everyone without getting to the core of the dilemma.
“Bathrooms aren’t the issue, drug use is the issue,” said Rowan Bell-Myers, one of the students behind the Instagram page. “This isn’t going to solve the vaping problem. It feels more like a quick fix to solve reputation problems.”
Bach isn’t disagreeing. Vaping is a concern at schools all across the country, he said, and Stillwater High isn’t immune. The school has taken steps to educate parents and students about the risks and now has a chemical health specialist on campus each school day.
But repeated stories about students being intimidated by vaping in the bathrooms, as well as ongoing issues with vandalized sinks, led to the breaking point that resulted in the lockup, Bach said.
“This is an effort to redirect traffic to areas where there is more supervision,” he said. “Everyone still has the opportunity to use the restroom.”
The principal said he was open to other ideas. And he hopes they come from the students themselves.
“I actually want to praise you and thank you for all the attention that we’ve given to the rap songs, the videos and the memes that have been generated addressing this issue,” Bach said on a recent video addressing students. “But I also want to challenge you to put that creativity to use to help us come up with some solutions for this.”
On Wednesday, students will have the chance to share those ideas in a forum led by student council members.
Junior Lily Shayegan, who said she has never personally witnessed vaping in the bathroom, said it was unfair to address a situation created by a handful of teenagers in a way that affects the entire student body. Despite the jocular tone of much of the messaging, Shayegan said there is real concern about students not being able to quickly reach a bathroom if they are sick or menstruating.
“We are really lucky to have access to sanitary products,” she said, “but if we don’t have easy access to a bathroom to deal with it, it’s just a lot more stressful.”
Bell-Myers said the “Let Us Pee” campaign has been unifying because everyone understands that bathrooms are a “private space that are necessary to have close by.” In a school of about 2,800 students, eight bathrooms — three men’s, three women’s and two unisex (each with a single stall) — just aren’t enough, he said.
For Logan Magler, a sophomore, the issue is more about losing valuable time in the classroom due to longer walks to the bathroom and longer waits to use it.
“I know that the administration was trying to fix a real issue they couldn’t get a handle on,” Magler said. “But we just wish we’d been talked to before they did this.”
No matter the outcome, Bell-Myers said the student body has proved it can unite around a cause. And it’s not over, he said; just this week, he started distributing 500 pins that display the toilet paper-wielding fist of solidarity.
“I would definitely consider this a movement,” Bell-Myers said. “It is silly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Besides, humor is a good tactic.”