Locust Walk was transformed into a slave auctioning block on Friday afternoon as part of a protest led by Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation.
In front of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house, a member of the group stood on a box with plastic chains around her neck, reciting a poem directed toward the members of the fraternity, calling them out for their choice to feature a black blow-up sex doll in their holiday photo last December.
"When you walk on Locust, you're not supposed to feel the violence that is this house," College senior Victoria Ford, the student reciting the poem, said.
The photo went viral at the time after students expressed outrage at the inclusion of the doll, something many students felt was racially insensitive and potentially sexist. Students in the fraternity claimed the doll was meant to be a joke gift during the fraternity's Secret Santa exchange, and was marketed as resembling Beyoncé.
"For four months, I have walked in front of this house and have lost all sense of worth," Ford said. "No more."
During the protest, one brother of Phi Delta Theta came outside and told the protesters that "people are listening."
A member of SOUL responded, "We don't feel like you guys are actually sympathizing at all."
Although the chapter was placed on probation by its national organization in January and required to complete cultural sensitivity and sexual and relationship misconduct education programs, some students feel the penalties weren’t severe enough.
“We haven't forgotten about this and remain unsatisfied with the University's response and punishment of Phi Delta Theta,” SOUL posted on its Facebook event for a Tuesday meeting to organize the protest.
Phi Delt members contacted for this article were not immediately available for comment.
In December, a draft apology signed “The Brothers of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Pennsylvania” said the inclusion of the sex doll in the photo was "distasteful" and “once removed from the packaging, it bore no semblance to the artist beyond skin color, adding to its offensive nature.”
“There were absolutely no prejudicial motivations behind the gift,” the apology continued, acknowledging, “the absence of racial motivation is no justification for this act of poor judgement and the decision not to include a sex toy in a holiday picture should have been an easy one.”
The fake slave auction in front of the chapter house was meant to tie the purchasing of the black sex-doll into the larger narrative of slavery, and the historical relationship between white men and black women.
The fake auctioneers held signs that read $14.60, symbolizing the amount of money the blow-up doll cost. Protesters also painted their heads as a symbol of police brutality.
One member of Phi Delt joined the protest and painted his face in solidarity with the cause. He said to protesters that they were listening and taking the concerns seriously. Several other members came out of the house but did not speak to the protesters.
Members of SOUL later spoke about how the event is the first Ferguson Friday demonstration focusing on black women, as previous events have focused on black men. They said they were "reclaiming" the space outside of the fraternity by conducting this demonstration.
Staff Reporter Dan Spinelli contributed reporting.
This article was late updated at 4:52 p.m.
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