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The Antithesis of
the Trump Election


Ayyan Zubair
Elected USG President


Pakistani
 American
 and Muslim

Opinion:
Do Race and
Religion Matter?

 

 

 


 

Editorial by Ja Young 

Alumni Editor
April 2017

 

Ayyan Zubair, leading The Party Next Door, was elected President of USG, the Undergraduate Student Government, with 53% of the vote, beating Lydia Senatus, the LIT Party opponent.


Assuming he handles the next two years well, Zubair seems destined to make USG just a stepping stone in politics or diplomacy. As a freshmen, current USG President Cole Lee made Ayyan his Chief of Staff. This year he also became the sole undergrad on the University Senate Executive Council. Now as he enters his junior year, he will replace Cole, overseeing a $3.3 million annual Student Activity Fee budget which supports the majority of student clubs and events on campus.

Becoming president was thought about well in advance, though it took somewhat of a roundabout trek to get there. Ayyan started Stony as a bioengineering major but realized mid-way through his first semester that his heart wasn't in it. He changed majors.

The reality is, he heart knew in high school what he really wanted to do with his life. After attending the Youth Assembly at the UN, he wrote in HuffPo, "I hope, I pray, I KNOW that in the months, years, and decades to come, it will be my fellow delegates and I who will take charge and create a world of equality, love, and tolerance."

 


When interviewed by Newsday at the Conference he said, "Everyone here is interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy or something to do with helping people. And no one thinks they're better than anyone else. Everyone thinks that they can help."

 

Going way back to 2011 he was already helping. He created a youth group at the Long Island Muslim Society which began as a means to give them a safe space but later branched out to have interfaith activities to help in mutual understanding and to fight ignorance. He also created non-profits to help Pakistani youth.

 

I wrote the following as a stand alone editorial before reading everything about Ayyan and writing the above. After 40 years of working with students, including many years with Polity (as USG was once called), it was satisfying as a Stony Brook alumna to see the 1960's "we can solve the world's problems" idealism once again in both Cole and Ayyan. 

 

The AA E-Zine came to life because of a USG election in 2001. With no Asian Americans in office, there was a profound lack of understanding in USG of what the Asian and Asian American community was all about.

A proposal was put forward to combine all Asian interest clubs into one. This would have left East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian interest clubs fighting over the same small pot of money, never mind, for example, ASA vs CASB (perennial rivals), BU vs SASA, or CCF vs HSC vs MSA.

 

And that was even before the growth of SBU's international students, the majority of whom come from Asia and want clubs that are less American culture focused and where members speak the same non-English language.
 

 

So in 2001 a multicultural slate of students ran for Executive Council positions that included four Asian Americans. Two of them won - Lucy Kim and Jannet Mey - the first since Dominic Seraphin in 1983, and since then there has been no looking back. Asian Americans became part and parcel of USG.

 
In 2004, hapa Jared Wong became the first biracial Asian American to win the top position, USG President. In 2013, Adil Hussain, an Indian American won. In 2014 another Indian American, Garry Lachhar won. In 2015 Cole Lee, a Korean American, won for the first time and was reelected in 2016.
 

And now, Ayyan Zubair is President. He is a Pakistani American Muslim, born and bred on Long Island. But does it matter what his race and religion are?

 

Like the whitewashing of Asian films currently all over the news with the release of Ghost in the Shell, yes it does. Representation matters. Being able to see one's own face in any role matters. Feeling that you can run for any position without race being a factor matters - and that won't happen until it is commonplace.

 
Religion was never a pronounced discussion in any USG race until now, which undoubtedly has a lot to do with the recent US Presidential election. As Zubair said to a Statesman reporter after he had won, "It is a testament to the diversity and inclusion on campus that your two candidates for president were a Black female and a Muslim guy."

And then I read this, which Ayyan had written at the end of his first semester as a freshmen after his change of heart, and it was obvious this race was on his mind then. "Lastly, I highly recommend pursuing leadership positions on campus. The best way to dispel myths about your faith (anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, etc.) is making your face known on campus (in a positive light, of course). When students see that their student government president, for example, is a Muslim, they will realize that you are just like them."


USG's election produced the opposite result of the US Presidential election. Whereas Trump talked exclusion and a Muslim ban, Zubair talked inclusion and became the first openly, (though I'm not sure that's the right word), Muslim to win.

 

Since religion was never a factor in previous races, it's unknown what religions, if any, previous USG Presidents practiced. But since Islamaphobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes have risen since 9/11 and blossomed under Trump, this campus election was an affirmation that there is a far more honorable part of America than what Trump represents.

 

Congratulations to Ayyan. Let's all hope this positive affirmation represents not just Stony Brook's future but the future for all Americans.

As the award winning author Bharati Mukherjee once wrote - "I am an American, not an Asian-American. My rejection of hyphenation has been called race treachery, but it is really a demand that America deliver the promises of its dream to all its citizens equally."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

As a side note, Ayyan also has a wonderful sense of humor. His email is azoobear and here is a warm and funny video that was made as a prelude to the recent Bengali Unite's Mock Wedding - where he was the groom. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUZ1Y4savHk&feature=youtu.be


~~~~~~~~~~~

If you didn't know much about Ayyan - here's some of what he's done as well as some of his published writings (in no particular order):

 

http://www.theprospect.net/ayyans-story-my-college-journey-to-stony-brook-university-58403

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/ayyan-zubair
 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ayyan-zubair/finally-something-more-im_b_8208346.html

 

http://www.theprospect.net/how-my-first-semester-of-college-changed-me-57831

 

http://www.theprospect.net/your-guide-to-religion-and-spirituality-in-college-57447

 

http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/ayyan-zubair-east-meadow-native-finds-his-mission-as-delegate-at-united-nations-assembly-1.10719645
 

 

 



 

   
 

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