Office of the President
April 21, 2021

Dear William Paterson Community,

The tragic death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis last year launched massive protests in which people around the world took to the streets of small towns and big cities to demand accountability from his killer and call for a society and a justice system that acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.

With yesterday’s guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, those voices were heard. As Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said, accountability for George Floyd’s death is “the first step towards justice.”  Like many of you, I am relieved that our system worked and glad for the measure of peace it brings to George Floyd’s family. His younger brother, Philonise Floyd, told reporters, “Today, we are able to breathe again.”

Given the callousness and brutality with which George Floyd was treated, his death sparked a critical reckoning on matters of racial justice. The Chauvin verdict, as important a test as it was for our justice system, does not end the important work. The fact that there was so much doubt and anxiety about the outcome, despite the overwhelming evidence against him, shows that more needs to be done. True justice will come when people of color are no longer dying because of the color of their skin.

I am proud of all that is being done on our campus to advance racial justice and equality. The upcoming USC Equity Institutes on racial equity and justice, in which 20 members of the university community will participate, is just the latest example. But there is still a long way to go. We must redouble our efforts to end racism and ensure that justice consistently and reliably extends to Black people and all people of color. 

Those of us who are not members of these communities must be a reliable and active part of these efforts. For me, that means that I commit to open my mind and my heart, to listen, to speak up against ignorance and hate, and to continue to read and learn. I invite others to join me by continuing to engage in this important and necessary work, so that we can move toward a more racially just society. To the Black community of students, faculty, and staff at William Paterson, I am here to support and affirm you by engaging in this work. 

While the verdict is good news, it is the product of a tragic and traumatic event and has surely provoked a complex mix of emotions that many will want to talk about. Please remember that students can always access counseling through the Counseling, Health & Wellness Center, faculty and staff can avail themselves of the Employee Assistance Program, and everyone can make use of the resources of the Office of Employment Equity and Diversity. Students can participate in today’s Bridge Student Support Group from 1-2 p.m.

The diversity of our students, faculty, and staff is one of our greatest strengths as a University and as a society, but racism and injustice undermine that strength and compromise our collective future. Let us recommit ourselves to doing all we can as individuals and a community to make sure this moment is not an end point, but rather an opportunity to reenergize ourselves for the work ahead.

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