Summer 2021 Heller Magazine: Letter from the Dean

June 15, 2021

portrait of David Weil
David Weil

Dear Heller Community,

These last few months, I have thought a lot about the many ways that individuals can effect positive change in society. Our society has lived through 16 months where it was easy to feel paralyzed by circumstance and isolated from our colleagues. The way this pandemic split us all up, sent many of us home, and pushed our worlds onto Zoom screens made many of us feel newly hypervigilant and yet helpless to intervene.

In reflecting on the events of the last year I have often ruminated on a quote from Leviticus 16:19. The translation I remember most vividly is, “Thou shalt not stand idly by.”

In the past year, we saw what failing to observe those words looks like. From our news feeds we witnessed 65-year-old Vilma Kari, a Filipino immigrant woman, brutally accosted in broad daylight on the streets of Manhattan. The security guards standing in plain sight failed to intervene, and then closed the door after the assailant left—a stark reminder of what happens when we fail the admonition, “Thou shalt not stand idly by.”

But I also thought of Darnella Frazier, the brave 17-year old who saw Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, and pulled out her cell phone to record what would become the most powerful piece of evidence in the murder trial that ensued. And when grocery shoppers in Boulder, Colorado fled for their lives from a gunman, we saw videos of strangers helping one another to safety, risking being shot themselves. These people did not stand idly by in the face of unthinkable violence.

The calling to effect social policy in a way that advances social justice brought us to our work at Heller, but it can’t stop there. It must be part of the way we act and interact: how we respond to the divisions that surround us, what we do in the presence of insensitive or uninformed statements, how we speak to those who we feel cannot understand. How we act in the breach, but also in the small moment.

In the world of social policy and social change, I have learned that there are multiple paths to any goal. You can work within the system or outside it. You can focus on deep, structural changes or incremental improvements. You can leverage tools in primary research, in analysis, advocacy, activism or politics. All of these paths are valuable, and in fact all of them are necessary.

In this issue of Heller Magazine, we explore some of those paths. Heller research centers and institutes are shaping landmark federal policy to right historic inequities for people with disabilities and children in poverty. Our alumni are leveraging the power of global corporations to invest in under-supported African entrepreneurs. Our scientists are building the research case for fairer health care payment models. And our faculty and students are pushing the international development and peacebuilding fields to examine ethically problematic practices.

The list above is just a brief peek into the myriad paths our community members are taking to advance social justice in their work and in their own lives. As you are reading, I invite you to explore, to question, to connect, and to discover something that intrigues or inspires you. At Heller, we will never stand idly by.



David Weil

Dean and Professor