SGA presidential and vice presidential candidates Angelora Castellano and Samantha Hepburn said their platform emphasizes “students first,” as they hope to build a student community where everyone is “respected, included and recognized.”
Castellano said she seriously considered running for SGA president around two semesters ago and brought on Hepburn after a four-hour conversation over dinner. They built their campaign on accountability from university and student officials, advocacy for informed voter registration among students, an expansion in student research and affordable university experience, according to their campaign website.
Castellano is an international studies and classical studies junior. She joined the SGA through the Crimson Leadership Association and made her way to the executive cabinet, meeting former SGA Presidents Adran Gibbs and Justin Norris, who she served under as director of the department of communications. Castellano currently serves under current president Tavana Farzaneh as director of the department of interior.
It was in the CLA, Castellano said, where she realized there was potential for change, growth and problem-solving on campus through SGA.
Due to COVID-19 quarantine requirements for international students, economics and political science sophomore Hepburn didn’t begin classes until September 2020. She joined SGA through the Farzaneh-Gray campaign after seeing a link in a GroupMe asking for people interested in joining the executive branch, where she now works in the department of inclusivity, Hepburn said.
When Castellano approached her, Hepburn said she could clearly envision the progress they would accomplish if elected. Their passions always came down to putting students first and they plan to keep this promise.
“You have to find the point where impact meets action, and we’re advocates for tangible change,” Hepburn said. “Change should be an action item and not a talking point.”
As the university moves forward with its multi-year master plan to replace the residential hall towers, Castellano said she and her running mate have a unique opportunity to push for inclusive housing, which includes gender neutral and 2SLGBTQ+ housing options, as well as better accessibility for students with disabilities.
“When you add in projects that benefit others that go with the momentum that’s already occurring at (the) university, you are much more likely to get things done because things are already being changed,” Castellano said. “(This multi-year plan) doesn’t happen very often. That is a time where we get to sit down and be like, ‘Okay, we have this opportunity to express concern about roommates, to express concern about safety (and) about identity.’”
As a former RA, Castellano said she has interacted with various freshman and upperclassmen as her residents. She said hearing about their problems made her realize she had a wide array of tools at her disposal to get their concerns heard and resolved.
“When everybody on campus succeeds, we all succeed together,” Castellano said. “That’s why we ended up pushing spaces that we knew were tangible, that we knew we could change, that we knew we could do, and making sure that we follow through with them so that we answer the concerns of all the spaces. All the ones that we encounter, the ones that we don’t encounter, the ones that we only hear about the other people. Just making sure that all of those spaces have a say.”
For Castellano, an out-of-state-student, and Hepburn, an international student from the Bahamas, inclusivity is incredibly important. They said they remember coming to the university not knowing anyone or anything, and they don’t want incoming students to feel similarly lost.
Hepburn said she attributes her success in networking on campus to her connection with other students, and wants to ensure new students are able to build their own networks of peers. She said she should have been made more aware of other organizations on campus, and she hopes to connect students to what OU has to offer.
As Castellano and Hepburn draw from their experiences on campus, Hepburn said they are here to “empower students” and “fully represent” them. SGA, Hepburn said, is the only organization on campus that answers to students.
“We saw what was needed,” Castellano said. “We saw that (there) were problems and that people were having issues with certain fears on campus. We were able to put this plan together and we are driven and motivated and passionate about fulfilling that plan, and being there for the students.”