In November, 52.5 percent of Suffolk County voters went to the polls and pulled the lever next to Donald J. Trump’s name in the U.S. presidential election, according to Politico. In March, 53 percent of Stony Brook students logged onto SOLAR and clicked the option next to Ayyan Zubair’s name for the Undergraduate Student Government presidential election.
The two share one other notable trait — neither of them drink or smoke — but after that, the similarities end and the differences begin.
Zubair is the son of Pakistani immigrants who raised three sons in East Meadow – a Nassau County hamlet within 15-miles of the Queens border.
“My parents are doctors and they came to America. The whole dollar and a dream kind of thing, right?” Zubair said. “They worked their butts off – Burger King, cleaning toilets, passing their exams and now they’re doctors…But yet there’s still this air of suspicion around them or around Muslims in general.”
The incoming USG president views himself as one of many who can help change the American perception of Muslims. While his faith is important to him – “I don’t hide the fact that I’m Muslim. I’m proud to be Muslim,” he said – he views himself as “a very normal college guy” who is also fairly religious.
“Every time you turn on the news, you hear about a Muslim guy blowing himself up,” Zubair said. “That’s why representation really matters. People look at me, alright I’m a normal guy. I listen to Migos. I’m wearing a Bulls Hat. I happen to be Muslim. Okay, fantastic.”
Despite Zubair’s repeated insistence that he is just “a normal guy,” his peers constantly contradict that assessment. And it has nothing to do with his religion.
“I don’t think you can make it any more obvious how distinguished and remarkable he is,” current USG President Cole Lee said. Zubair served as Lee’s chief of staff since the fall. “Right off the bat, he was someone who impressed me and who I was inspired by,” he said.
Zubair has not only impressed his peers with his skills and experience, but also his superiors.
“I have had a chance to get to know Ayyan, particularly in his role as the USG representative to the Senate Executive Committee,” Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., said. “I look forward to working with him in his role as president of the USG, and I am confident he will do an outstanding job.”
By the time Zubair announced his candidacy, he had already worked on a congressional campaign in NYS Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office and as an advisor for security council affairs for the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations. And that was just in the last two years.
“I was asked by a couple of the [university] administrators who it is I think would not only be a viable replacement, but someone that can go above and beyond,” Lee recalled. “And I knew from that very moment the question was posed to me that there is no one more qualified, more deserving, more ready to lead and serve than Ayyan.”
On Zubair’s first day of college in August 2015, he walked into the USG office with an eagerness to contribute that immediately caught Lee’s eye.
“He wanted to make a difference right away,” Lee recalled, sitting in the office that will become Zubair’s on May 20. “His resume, honestly was unparalleled. I had not seen anything like that and I will even go as far to say that he was more accomplished than me, coming in.”
Before attending a single class at Stony Brook, Zubair was a credited author on a peer-reviewed psychopathology study at Nassau University Medical Center. Zubair was the only author of the study without a Ph.D. or M.D.
He had also published columns for The Huffington Post, founded an activist non-profit called “Pakistanis4SocialChange” and co-founded the youth program for the Long Island Muslim Society.
After working as an intern at USG, Zubair was later promoted to deputy chief of staff and then chief of staff. Now, he will take on the top job.
“Would I love to do everything in this next year?” Zubair said. “Of course. But I know I can’t do everything for everyone. My biggest prerogative is helping as many people as possible.”
Since working alongside Lee on efforts to secure 24-hour operation of the university’s main library last spring and free laundry for students next fall, Zubair hopes to continue pushing the university forward. His major policy proposals include a new course retake policy and free feminine hygiene products on campus.
“There’s free condoms everywhere and sex is optional,” Zubair said. “Having a period isn’t. And for too many Seawolves it’s too expensive to buy menstrual pads. Which is really saying something because it’s a basic human right.”
Zubair is currently working on a double major in applied mathematics and statistics and economics. After that? Law school, then politics.
For Zubair, the appeal of politics is not the result of vanity, nor is it the result of proximity to authority. Instead, it is his inability to effectively wield influence while working at the United Nations last summer, that reassured him of his passion for public service.
“I was at quote-unquote ‘the table,’ but really I had no power,” Zubair said. He recalled a day when news came in that the Assad regime in Syria was blocking all the roads to Aleppo, keeping humanitarian aid out of a city where thousands were starving.
“I’m in this nice UN building with AC and the East River is right there. Y’know, the UN is a gorgeous place,” he said. “But there’s people halfway across the world, little kids who are going to die of hunger of all things. It left an impact on me.”
The impact did not result in a grandiose hope to fix all that ills the world. Instead, Zubair grew determined to help where he can, on the micro level.
“I understand my role won’t be to change the entire world, no one can ever do that,” Zubair conceded. “But I can change the life of one kid who maybe doesn’t have right now or one family who maybe doesn’t have upward mobility and create that opportunity for them. That’s what it’s about.”