TikTok ‘devious licks’ challenge incites campus vandalism, inconveniences custodians

Jessica Wang

It has been about a month since the “devious licks” TikTok trend emerged in early September, and although Internet trends usually fade as quickly as they surface, students are still vandalizing school property. Spraying graffiti on the bathroom walls, stealing pencil sharpeners and shattering mirrors have all been widespread acts on campus connected to the trend.

Custodian supervisor Luciano Hernandez says the last substantial lick at Gunn was just last week. “At one point last week, every single soap dispenser from the boys’ bathrooms on campus went missing,” Hernandez said.

According to People Magazine, the “devious licks” trend started when TikTok user @jugg4elias posted a video showing off a box of stolen disposable masks. Since then, the trend has amassed over 19,000 videos, with students stealing ceiling panels in the bathrooms, air conditioning units, fire extinguishers and much more. After receiving backlash online, TikTok restricted every video featuring the buzzwords “stealing,” “devious” and “lick.”

At the height of the trend, Gunn students were not only stealing and spraying graffiti on items in the bathrooms, but also completely destroying them. Sophomore Roni Kurt was dismayed by the damage done in many of the boys’ bathrooms across campus. “They broke the toilet seats, so you can’t sit on the toilet, and [they broke] the mirrors, so you can’t look at yourself in the mirror,” Kurt said. 

Video courtesy of Jad Samad

By Sept. 15, the vandalism had become such a large issue that all bathrooms on campus were locked after the dismissal bell to deter students from further havoc. Sophomore Edwin Jacqua voiced exasperation at the inconveniences. “It gets old when it’s this continuous,” he said.

Theft and wreckage aside, students have also taken to spraying graffiti or splattering red Kool-Aid onto the walls of the bathrooms. This creates an additional level of maintenance for the custodial staff to handle and requires district intervention. Hernandez explains the process of cleaning up graffiti. “We have to document the graffiti that gets put up, [and] if we cannot clean it, we have to call the district’s managing department so they can come and paint over it,” he said. “It’s so time consuming and very costly because somebody has to come in for two or three hours just to clean or paint over something that’s been vandalized.” 

English teacher Terence Kitada, whose classroom is in the N-building, worries about the effects of this trend on the custodians at Gunn. “The frustration is, somebody has to clean it up,” Kitada said. “I’m friends with the janitors who work in the N-building, Nigel and Nestor. For them, it’s frustrating because they already have extra duties because of the COVID-19 safety protocols. Are the folks who are doing these things thinking about the people whom they’re affecting?”

The licks have N-building custodian Nestor Vidonia frequently restocking items in the bathroom. “It’s very hard,” Vidonia said. “Some teachers are saying, ‘We don’t have soap in this area, in this restroom.’ It’s my duty to check them every day, and when I check them, there’s nothing there.” 

Beyond the disturbance in daily life, theft of sanitary products like hand sanitizer and soap increases the transmission risk of COVID-19, creating other safety concerns. “I can’t go to the bathroom and wash my hands because the soap’s all gone,” Kurt said. “It’s very unsanitary and gross, and because there’s no soap, it makes it difficult to be safe during COVID-19.” 

While bathroom thefts remain common, graffiti has significantly decreased since the start of the trend. In fact, Hernandez comments that last week was graffiti-free. “Last week, there was less vandalism because at some point, there was nothing left to be vandalized,” he said.

On Sept. 30, Principal Wendy Stratton expressed her gratitude to the custodial staff in a Schoology update. “We would like to thank the Custodial Staff for working above and beyond in light of COVID-19 hygiene concerns and the recent vandalism and theft in our campus bathrooms,” she wrote.