Editorial by Ja Young
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
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
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
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
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
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):