February 13, 2003

Reno '60 Talks On Mentally Ill

Print More

Janet Reno ’60, former U.S. Attorney General and Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor, spoke to an audience of roughly 250 yesterday afternoon in the Harriet Stein Mancuso ’73 Amphitheater in the Cornell Law School as the third annual Bernard S. Yudowitz Lecturer.

Reno began by telling the audience, “If I had to do it all over again, I think I would get a masters in public health at the same time as my law degree.”


This launched Reno into an hour-long discussion about the importance of building a strong community foundation as a protection against injustice of mentally ill and young children.

Reno, whose lecture was entitled “Collaboration between Law and Public Health,” gave the packed amphitheater four definitions of the way law can be used. “I define law as a sword, or advocate; shield, or defender; problem solver and peace maker.”

“Lawyers have a responsibility to see how they can make the law real for people,” Reno added.


Throughout the lecture, Reno stressed the importance of building a mechanism whereby law is used in conjunction with the community in a comprehensive effort to reduce improper treatment of the mentally ill.

“The mentally ill turn to the court because no one else has helped them,” Reno explained. “We need a community based system that identifies and follows through with the mentally ill by using the community and training police officers the right way to treat the mentally ill.”

Child Development

Reno also recounted the 1984 situation in Miami, Fla. of increasing crack usage as well as number of babies born to using mothers who could not take care of their children.

Working through this situation, Reno learned the importance of the first three years of an infant’s life in child development, known as “zero to three.”

“We must encourage a strong foundation in the first three years of life. Small infants that cannot help themselves must have a foundation of learning,” Reno said.

In addition to stressing a coherent infrastructure within the community, Reno addressed the law students in the audience and encouraged them to work for firms willing to do pro bono work.


Reno concluded the lecture with words of encouragement for future lawyers.

“You have a great future, use it, but it is not just people and information that will prevail, it is the human spirit that will see you through. Trust the people. They will not, in the long run, disappoint you.”

The floor was then opened to questions and comments.

Lorraine Jones, a physical therapist from Sidney, NY, traveled to Cornell specifically to hear Reno speak. “[Reno] is so involved with the community,” Jones said.

Jones asked Reno her thoughts on the recent educational cutbacks, especially as the rise in costs for special education continues to grow alongside the number of students needing special attention.

“I think we can do a lot better job throughout the educational system,” Reno responded. “If we look at kids before the sixth grade and determine the kid’s at risk, we can work to develop their interest in learning,” Reno added.

This lecture marked the end of Reno’s large public speaking engagements for her two-week visit to Cornell.

Audra Lewton law, grad, was in the audience yesterday afternoon and enjoyed the lecture.

“I thought she was extremely influential as a strong lawyer and advocate,” Lewton said.

Kerin Desimone law, grad, added, “She was especially inspirational to women entering the profession.”

The event gave a chance for students, such as Enrique Garcia ’03, a chance to see how law and public health related to their current fields of interest.

“What resonated for me as a biology and society student was the emphasis on the role public health can play in relation to law as she [Reno] referenced the importance of ‘zero to three’,” Garcia said.

In addition to participating in a student forum on “Ethics of the Modern Campaign,” Reno also gave a talk last Thursday on “The Truth and How we Seek it,” which addressed the importance of knowledge and reasoning in finding truth and then acting upon it.

Tomorrow, twenty students in Human Development 258: The History of Women in the Professions will interview Reno about her experience at Cornell as a female student.

Archived article by Sarah Workman