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Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation installed white dresses with repaint splattered on Locust Walk in order to raise awareness of the violence and oppression of black transgender women.

Credit: Garrett Nelson

If you’ve made your way down Locust Walk in the past week, you’ve probably noticed the white dresses with red paint splattered on them hung on lampposts.

These dresses were installed by Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation to raise awareness of the violence and oppression that black transgender women face.

In a continuation of last year’s Ferguson Fridays campaign — where SOUL put on demonstrations on Fridays to protest racial discrimination — the group has been putting up installations on campus since September, and it plans to continue to do so throughout the semester. Last year’s installations focused on police brutality following the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. when Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man, was shot multiple times by a police officer and died.

This year, SOUL is focusing on a smaller, more unrepresented group. SOUL wants to raise awareness of the “tremendous levels of violence at systemic and interpersonal levels” that black transgender women face, according to a press release on the dress installation. The press release says that over the past year, 17 black transgender women were killed — a number that is probably underreported.

SOUL doesn’t currently have any members who fit in the intersection of black transgender women, College senior and SOUL Co-Founder Gina Dukes said, but recent events in Philadelphia and in the wider world have inspired the group to raise awareness about the challenges they face.

“We don’t want to speak for them, we just want to raise awareness to their issues,” Dukes said.

SOUL chose to use the white dresses with red paint to symbolize bloodstains as the installation because it was reminiscent of femininity and “oftentimes the black trans women that are killed present [en] femme,” Dukes said. Likewise, the installation was aimed to get people’s attention, as are all their installations.

SOUL hopes that these installations will provoke discussion among the Penn community, and that students will engage with the installations.

“We’re hoping that people read it and notice it, that’s the first thing,” Dukes said, “we want to get feedback, we want to hear what people think about it.”

“Our whole thing is igniting the soul, we want to spur students to care more about issues,” Dukes said. “We live in the Penn bubble and there’s real stuff happening outside it.”

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