Office of the President
January 17, 2022

Dear William Paterson Community:

Today, as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reflecting on the enduring values of equality and justice to which he dedicated his life and the continued urgency of his call to “make real the promises of democracy.” Specifically, how do we ensure that government works for everyone? So much of our current trouble seems rooted in a widespread disillusionment with our government at every level. It may be one of the few things that the left and right still have in common.

The civil airing of political disagreement is a hallmark of a healthy democracy. However, when we as a nation are so divided that we don’t share even the most fundamental understanding of government’s purpose, democracy is imperiled. People of good intentions from around the country and across the political spectrum must work together to strengthen our political system and empower our government to better serve everyone, particularly people from historically underrepresented backgrounds, who continue to face social injustice. The Build Back Better Act, as just one example, contains many popular and important initiatives, including expanded funding for higher education, in particular those institutions enrolling underserved populations, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other Minority Serving Institutions, like William Paterson.

It can be easy to grow dispirited and feel disconnected from our government, but it’s helpful to remember the power that we have, individually and collectively, to effect change. That begins with voting, the right that Dr. King and so many civil rights leaders worked so hard to expand and protect. On a positive note, a record high 66 percent of college students cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election. Unfortunately, while we should all be working to further expand participation among this and all groups, many interests are doing the opposite, seeking to infringe on voting rights at the state and local levels, especially among populations of color and young people.

As Dr. King demonstrated throughout his life, the best antidote for despair is action. Let us all assume the responsibility of democratic citizenship by organizing and advocating in support of the causes that are meaningful to us, by protecting everyone’s right to vote, and by exercising that right ourselves at every opportunity.

As always at William Paterson, the Spring semester will include many opportunities for us to participate in the kind of service work and civic engagement that best honors Dr. King’s legacy. I invite you take advantage of one such opportunity, the MLK Day Civic Engagement Conference, on Friday, Jan. 28th, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., which will feature the keynote presentation, “Critical Race Theory and a Country in Crisis,” by Dr. Nyle Fort, Professor of African American Studies at Columbia University. It will also feature student breakout discussions on this important topic led by Dr. Djanna Hill, Chair of the Department of Community and Social Justice Studies and professor of teacher education, and Dr. Mark Ellis, professor of sociology. Thanks to everyone who is involved in making possible this important program, which is being presented jointly by Campus Activities, Service & Leadership; the Center for Diversity & Inclusion; American Democracy Project; Office of the President; and the Department of Community and Social Justice Studies. 

Richard J. Helldobler, Ph.D.
Office of the President | 973.720.2222 |