Zico Khayat: My Story
by: Zico Khayat
My name is Zico Khayat and I am writing this article to address the Penn State community. The purpose of this is to express my commitment to the initiatives of this University, many stemming from my close partnership with the President’s Office. This semester in January, many administrators reached out to Muslim students to talk about their experiences at Penn State and what they feel would enhance their undergraduate education. I thrived and capitalized on the opportunity to be in the same room with such distinguished guests from the administration such as President Barron, Vice Provost of Education Equity Dr. Whitehurst, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims, Vice Provost of Global Programs Dr. Michael Adewumi, and so many more.
I was proactive and scheduled meetings with all of them. I wanted to take the conversations I had at that breakfast and foster relationships and lines of communication with these administrators.
Before I continue into all the initiatives I have been part of this semester, I want to tell the story of my recent UPUA experience. With my continued involvement in student life, I decided I could take my engagement to the next level and run for UPUA Vice President. I felt that many of the awareness-type events that I was doing on campus could translate into policies or legislation to actually benefit the students. Within one week of announcing to run, I decided to remove my name from the Executive Ticket. I became aware of potential plagiarism Monday afternoon when Onward State reached out to myself and my then running mate. I was unable to respond right away due to a dinner I was hosting with President Barron, Dr. Whitehurst, Mr. Sims, and Dr. Adewumi. This dinner was a dinner centered around diversity and inclusion.
I went home around 11 p.m. after clean up and started to read the emails from Onward State. I read the emails and they described how the plagiarism was with over half of the 28 initiatives. I sat down with a friend and started to analyze the Ford/Jordan platform with an older version of the platform I was given by Anthony Mitchell last Thursday. I saw two instances of close wording but nothing verbatim. I went through each of our platforms to try to find the plagiarism but was confused as to where it was. I met up with Anthony at almost 2 a.m. and we discussed the emails from Onward State with another friend present. Anthony said he had no idea why they were sending the details in the email about verbatim plagiarism, to which I agreed with the current information at hand. My friend and I realized we had to get our hands on the McDonald/Ford platform from one year ago to truly have both sources that Onward State referenced so we could disprove any verbatim plagiarism. We searched the web but could not find it. I asked Anthony if he had it but he could not locate it either. I called it a night around 3:00 a.m. and headed back to my dorm.
I ended up calling my friend at 3:18 a.m. to discuss what we thought of the OS emails and we spoke for 42 minutes. Right as I was getting ready for bed…at 4:04 a.m. I received an email from Anthony with the McDonald/Ford platform. I called my friend back and we met up to analyze the McDonald/Ford platform. We very quickly realized that the platforms had many identical platforms. This was past 5 a.m. I immediately texted my publicist and we started to discuss the implications of the plagiarism. I decided to meet with Alex Robinson from Onward State and tell my side of the story and officially remove myself from the campaign. With the urgency of the whole situation, I had to quickly formulate an opinion on the situation and I didn’t sleep Monday night trying to figure out what my action would be. I felt it was best to remove myself from the ticket.
I could not comfortably ask my friends and endorsers to vote for my ticket with scandal of plagiarism. Plagiarism, whether proven to be 100% or partially true, carries a negative weight. That does not represent who I am. I want to tell the Penn State community who I am, and want to describe many of the productive initiatives I have been a part of here at Penn State.
It continues from back in January after the breakfast. The next week after meeting with the administration I attended a speech by Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, who spoke on her son’s passing and her fight for social justice. She made a statement referencing the Bible which says to love thy neighbor…she mentioned that you don’t have to love, like, or even agree with another person, but you must respect them as human beings. This idea stuck with me and I haven’t forgotten it. Sybrina organized and helps to run an annual peace walk in February so I decided to mimic her event. I began planning a peace walk for the Penn State community. I met with President Barron, Damon Sims, Dr. Whitehurst, and Dr. Adewumi to talk about their potential involvement and they all loved the idea.
The Peace Walk took place March 15 and included about 100 participants. Many administrators took part in the walk and we believe that the next time the walk can be even bigger.
Meanwhile, in February, Damon Sims invited me to speak on a panel at the meeting of the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs and Student Life committee. I provided a unique perspective to the board and I was able to spark more conversation with a special trustee — Dr. Alice Pope, Associate Professor of Psychology at St. John’s University. Dr. Pope and I are in continued contact today and believe that our partnership between student and Trustee can further engage the rest of our own populations. She provided me with this statement of appreciation:
“I commend Zico Khayat for his leadership in the effort to make our Penn State community more welcoming to all. His understanding that our differences should enrich us, not divide us, will help make us a better Penn State.”
Alice, as she prefers me call her, opened up so much to me in the brief moments we were able to speak and really showed me that she takes her role as a trustee seriously.
When she was speaking on sexual assault, Dr. Pope looked at another female in the room in what I interpreted to be a glance of want for approval, because women are victims in the majority of sexual assaults. I responded to her that a women shouldn’t have to look to another female for approval. She should be able to look at me because I have a mother, or a grown man because he has a daughter. I believe that we need to make efforts to become more diverse at this campus and it starts with having conversations with people we don’t know or understand.
I also made a connection with another Trustee who directs with first year seminar courses in STEM at Penn State and I plan to reach out to him to see how we can implement awareness sessions to students that will increase their diversity consciousness.
In February, I joined forces with Brian Davis, to start collecting water for Flint, MI. I reached out to the Muslims of Penn State and was able to raise over $700 which was used to purchase 5 car loads of water.
Myself along with 20 other Penn State students were able to travel to Flint, MI to deliver and hand out cases of water to the undocumented residents of Flint. In total, Penn State was able to collect almost 4,000 bottles of water and over 200 gallon jugs. This was an amazing experience and I was so happy to be a part of it.
With all the work I have done with Social Justice and student inclusion I became the Vice President of the Social Justice Coalition. We seek to improve diversity and inclusion in all facets of Penn State. I helped and supported Brian Davis in founding this organization. We work hands on with other organizations on campus to create unity and spread awareness of social issues at Penn State. I personally believe that to be an advocate for a group striving for representation you have to be inclusive of all underrepresented groups.
With this organization we work closely with the administration in Old Main and I hosted a dinner which included President Barron, Dr. Whitehurst, Mr. Sims, and Dr. Adewumi. There were also 18 other students in attendance that I selected specifically to be there because of the unique representation they have. Conversations about race, labels, inclusion and more took place.
I am constantly engaged, and this is displayed with lunches with President Barron and Dr. Whitehurst on any given Friday. My colleague Brian Davis decided to host a lunch with a few student leaders, President and Molly Barron, and Dr. Whitehurst. The event was casual and we spoke about what initiatives we can do next. Improving the climate of the campus is an everyday battle. I have conference calls with Brian Davis and Cam Spiller almost every day talking about what we have to do next, how we can make it better for the next generation, and what is the best way to approach our next initiative. We believe in ourselves as leaders and as activists and under this regime we plan to take things to another level, creating better conditions and a better environment for all undergraduate students.
Lastly, I am working toward expansion of the Fraternity and Sorority Life community at Penn State by bringing a Muslim interest fraternity to the university. These are a few of the many projects I have at Penn State and I am always trying to make an impact. I spoke in Sam Richards’ sociology class about why I wear the traditional clothes of the middle east here at Penn State:
We can change the world. I have just realized that in order to change the world, we have to start by changing the environment we live in and influencing future generations.