Tavana Farzaneh and Alex Gray were sitting at their house when they received a call.
The pair heard the number “1,312” — enough votes to be officially named the new OU Student Government Association’s president and vice president Nov. 11.
New President Farzaneh — an economics business administration junior — and Vice President Gray — a public relations and women's and gender studies junior — said the excitement-filled call brought them to their knees from a mix of adrenaline and joy.
“(Election chair Peyton Nees) called, and she said 2,000 something people voted, 1,312 of those are for Farzana/Gray, and we just started screaming,” Farzaneh said. “I collapsed to the ground and just started crying because I couldn't process the thoughts that 1,300 people got on to (the) Engage (student voting platform), and they marked Tavana Farzaneh and Alex Gray. That in itself is just a huge thing for my brain to process … It was an incredible feeling.”
This call, though, was not the beginning of the Farzaneh/Gray story, which got its start during the duo's freshman year.
“We spend most of our days together. If we're not together, we’re texting or in some form of communication, and it's pretty much been like that since freshman year, and SGA is really what brought us together,” Gray said. “We would go to our meetings together for when we were freshmen in our first cabinet, and just through that, basically, is how we got close.”
Their campaign manager, an international development pre-law junior Cricket Kaya, said she noticed their friendship growing during freshman year and when they started realizing they would want to run for SGA president one day.
“They would always walk into cabinet together, and it was super cute because everybody was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they're such good friends,’” Kaya said. “I remember one day (2019-2020 SGA President Adran Gibbs) came to cabinet and said, ‘Cabinet’s almost over, my administration is ending.’ ...Then we kind of had this existential crisis because SGA was such a fulfilling thing for all of us, and I think after that moment Tavana and Alex decided that this was something they wanted to do.”
Kaya said after this moment, Farzaneh and Gray asked her to be in charge of their campaign, and they ignited their friendship.
“I would say that interaction was kind of like the founding moments for us,” Kaya said. “I would consider them some of my best friends, just because we've grown so much through this experience.”
After their “founding moment,” the three of them built the platform of their campaign — a platform narrowed down to three words: feasibility, accessibility, transparency.
“I want to be an SGA president that's accessible. I want to be an SGA president that’s like a friend. I don't want people to feel as though they can't talk to me because of the nature of this role,” Farzaneh said. “(We will) hopefully leave a lasting impact on the university in the student body in a very positive way, whether that's through relationships with people through friendships, or through the things that we get done.”
Gray shared the sentiment of trying to build relationships with students.
“As vice president, I just hope that I can be a voice for students. I hope that people can see me and know that I'm someone that they can approach with anything,” Gray said. “I hope to always be a person for others and a person that people know they can go to with their problems, and that I can give them an answer and hopefully help them figure out how we can be able to fix the problem they're having.”
Gray also said she at times doubted her place, but now she has made OU history.
“Freshman year, I could not have imagined myself in this position or running for this at all, and I've definitely had my moments where I kind of doubted my place,” Gray said. “I'm now so excited to be the vice president. I recently found out I’m the first Black woman to be in this position. So I am excited for the opportunity to represent and to bring some inclusive change.”
Farzaneh also said with a short one-year term, they hope to immediately get the ball rolling on some of the long-term goals of their administration.
According to their campaign website, these long-term goals include expanding mental health wellness and treatment options, advocating for a curriculum around Oklahoma’s history and future and updating the pictures across campus to show the faces of the students that make up the OU community, among others.
Since their inauguration on Nov. 24, the duo has already begun working on some of these long-term goals.
“So far, we have met with the (International Advisory Committee) exec to gain some insight on what the international student community would like to see with our International Student Liaison position,” Farzaneh said. “Lots more work to be done over the break ... This term is only a year and we have some ideas that will take some time so we wanted to get started as soon as possible.”
Farzaneh also said she has had more responsibilities on campus since the inauguration.
“Life on campus has been the same mostly, but I definitely have more responsibilities than I have had before,” Farzaneh said. “I also have had students reaching out to me about their interest in certain platform points, positions or even ideas. I’m grateful that people feel comfortable to reach out to us.”
Miguel Payan, a junior architectural engineering and mathematics double major and a voter in the 2020 SGA election, said the platform was part of the reason why he decided to vote for Farzaneh/Gray, but so was the marketing of their platform.
“Not only was their marketing really good, but I think the statements and the transparency they already had in their Instagram and on their website was really nice,” Payan said. “They also included some action items to complete each objective. I saw that kind of lacking with other candidates — they introduced some things that they wanted to accomplish during their administration, but not really like the specific action items. So I think that's what set the Farzaneh/Gray campaign apart in my perspective.”
Payan said the optimism that Farzaneh and Gray have was also part of why he decided to vote for them.
“I think in any position that involves governing, or anything of that nature, optimism is something that is very desirable,” Payan said. “I think both of them excel in this having this optimism and charisma for SGA.”
Payan also said their campaigning overall was the strongest of the candidates. According to Farzaneh, the campaigning process was her favorite part of the journey.
“Genuinely one of the best experiences of my college experience so far, has been being able to see so many different worlds on campus, and Alex and I just cry a lot, it's sometimes out of like stress, but then oftentimes throughout this campaign it was out of pure gratitude,” Farzaneh said. “Whenever you go from meeting to meeting to meeting, whether that's on Zoom or in person, it's just so cool to see all the different worlds that exist … it's given me a huge appreciation for all the things that happen on campus.”
For both Farzaneh and Gray, being able to see campus this way and in this role were things they said they never imagined freshman year.
“I have terrible imposter syndrome ... I’m working on that in this position, and be like, ‘You deserve this, you worked hard, and people believed in you.’ Many people believed in us to mark our names,” Farzaneh said. “I think that to be able to run a campaign like this, you do have to put yourself on the spot and I think that comes with being bold and being brave and being ambitious.”