Alumni spotlight: Zaire Carter ‘22

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Zaire Carter '22, photographed in 2021 for Muhlenberg's magazine. Photo from the Muhlenberg Zenfolio.

Zaire Carter ‘22 currently works as the state scheduler and assistant to the state director for “high-profile” New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Carter began his work as a Staff Assistant in Booker’s office, “answering the phones, helping with casework, helping the casework team do their job… a catch-all sort of role” before his recent promotion. Now, Carter is responsible for “mapping out the Senator’s in-state time,” as well as assisting the State Director, the highest-ranking representative position backing the legislator in, “propel[ling] the mission.” However, Carter originally came to Muhlenberg with the dream of being an actor.

A double major in theater and political science, Carter didn’t see himself entering into the political sphere until the COVID-19 pandemic when there was “no theater happening.” He saw the rise of discrimination, and as a result, advocacy for causes such as Black Lives Matter and work against Asian discrimination. “I felt at that time that I had to sort of roll up my sleeves,” he commented, saying that he began to get involved within his community, as an “advocate” for these and other groups. He identified this work as “something good to be a part of,” and was moved to translate this passion into his work in student government.

After three years as a Student Representative, Carter “[didn’t] like what [he was] seeing.” He commented that it was confusing what was being done by the Association, and that “at that time [it] was a group of students that nobody knew that had a tremendous amount of power and was… not distributing it equally.” They were elected, he said, but not known by the student body. In his junior year, he decided to “shake things up,” becoming more vocal in meetings and standing against the ideology that the representatives and officers are “isolated” from students. “Make it more accessible, spend more money, give more access, more transparency, more visibility,” he added.

It was from this vocality and commitment to change that Carter had people pushing him to run for president. There was a “put money where your mouth is” mentality that friends and administrators expressed to him as the election season approached. After winning the presidential campaign, Carter set up systems that would improve student government for many years to come, which he reflects that he’s “proud of.” He put the most pressing issues at the center of conversations, tackling them head-on, no matter the difficulty or timeliness. Carter was also notably the first Black president of the Student Government Association at Muhlenberg, a title he didn’t seek out, yet handled with care and consideration for all people he represented– as an emerging leader, resident advisor and worker in the Office of Multicultural Life. He remembers entering his first meeting as president and stating “The students are watching us.” Carter moved with that mentality through the year, doing everything he could to support and uplift students, giving them resources and access.

“If you can get something done at an educational institution, you can get things done anywhere,” he remarked. And he truly did mean anywhere, even the United States government. As a lover of the show “West Wing,” Carter approached the government with excitement, hoping to build bridges and commit to the same qualities of leadership and work he previously had, this time at a larger scale. Having known of Booker for a number of years before his undergraduate graduation, Carter jumped at the opportunity to apply for an opening on his team. 

“It’s been very, very rewarding, just to see how federal agencies work… and the role of a congressional office,” he commented. This “public service” work has been fulfilling for Carter, and he sees it as a way to increase transparency by “getting people the resources and the help that they need.” 

“The Senator is a very personable down to earth guy who I think genuinely believes in, you know, sort of those… ideals of hope and of democracy and of fighting back against these really dark and divisive forces that are trying to split us all apart. And so it’s been a real treat.”

Looking to the future, Carter says he is loving his work in public service, and wants to continue it. “I like helping people. I like bringing government closer to people, I like pulling back the curtain and showing people what government can do and what it has done.” He also added that this work isn’t easy, but is meaningful, and he hopes to continue working hard, especially through this election year. Carter has never shied away from making impactful change, and he doesn’t think that’s stopping now. “If you want your politics to be better, if you want your public officials to be better, if you want your politician to be better, then you’ve got to start doing it… You’ve got to start living it.”

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