During Greek Week's lip-sync event, an Afro wig was worn by Mary Donnelly, Sigma Alpha Tau (Owls) sorority member. The wig was meant to represent Chad Danforth, a fictional Disney character on High School Musical. Instead, the wig was viewed as cultural appropriation by many students.
On the following morning of the incident, Saturday, March 24, a post of the sorority member wearing the wig was posted to Facebook by OUSG Senator Noa Lewis. In the post, Lewis said that the wig was disrespectful, especially to students of color.
“No person of color should have to come to a school where their culture is appropriated instead of appreciated," said Lewis. "Let’s address the issue, not repress it.”
Later that day, an email was sent to the Greek Life Presidents from Sigma Alpha Tau President Mackenzie Siebert. The email stated that the chapter was aware that the choice of wig offended people. The letter also said that they would be meeting with the office of social justice and activism about a plan moving forward.
Growing concerns and frustrations resulted in an email from the Dean of Students Bob Gatti the following Monday. Gatti said that the incident was wrong and deeply hurtful to members of Otterbein.
"All students on this campus need to understand the experiences of those who are frequently marginalized by the larger culture, particularly those who experience stereotypes, prejudice and racism every day," said Gatti. "We must be better.”
Some students were upset by the use of the wig, but others thought that the incident was less troublesome because the character being depicted is fictional.
In a Facebook post on Monday, March 26, African American Student Union President Amber Hayes said that the incident wasn't worth the attention and outraged that it has caused.
Director of the Office of Social Justice and Activism James Prysock said this event stands as another example hat intent does not always equal impact.
“All students need to be educated early on topics like cultural appropriation, privilege and identity both in a past and present context," said Prysock. "These topics are central to the growth of this world and we are continuously seeing the byproducts of what happens when our community is not required to be challenged.”
On Thursday, March 29, The Sorority of Sigma Alpha Tau released a statement to campus apologizing for what they now know was a culturally insensitive prop.
“We are heartbroken and incredibly saddened to know people were hurt by our actions and want to ensure everyone that we are moving forward to educate ourselves,” said the letter.
Mackenzie Siebert, Sigma Alpha Tau president, sent a comment by email on behalf of herself and Donnelly.
"This incident was an organization's decision, not an individual's," said Siebert. "As you read from our statement, we are empathetic and have worked closely the last two weeks with the OSJA, CSI, and several student organizations."
*Editor Note* This story has been edited to include an emailed comment that was not available during the initial reporting of the story.