November 17, 2003

Speaking with Reno '60

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Even though the alumna had needed to be strong in making several decisions as the first female attorney general, Janet Reno ’60, a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor, admitted she does have vulnerabilities.

“I love yogurt ice cream,” Reno confessed in an interview with The Sun on Friday morning.

Throughout her two years as a Rhodes professor, Reno, even with minor weakness, has made a lasting effect on students that she has come across. Reno in the past has participated in a series of lectures and events around campus, including smaller sessions with Balch Hall residents, a dormitory she lived in during her undergraduate days. The former attorney general also gave the 2001 convocation speech to graduating seniors.

A person who was particularly impressed with Reno was Doug McLean ’06, a student who heard her speak in his GOVT 111: Introduction to American Government and Politics class. Although he admits that he did not know much about the former attorney general beforehand, he was impressed with the way she spoke about the difficult decisions she faced throughout her career.

“I thought she spoke very well — in a very calm, quiet manner which I didn’t expect,” McLean said. “It was really interesting hearing how [her decisions] affected her as a person.”

During her final Rhodes professor visit to East Hill which ended on Saturday, Reno has maintained a consistent regimen of guest lectures and activities. Last Sunday, she gave a Sage Chapel lecture entitled “Justice” — she has also spoken to students in classes from a variety of different majors and departments.

Labeling her last stay as “a great ten days,” Reno said that her main goal throughout her tenure was “to try and address what professors thought would be helpful in their classes.”

“What I liked best were the questions from students,” Reno said. “It was invigorating and challenging and inspiring in many notions. I found it all meaningful.”

One event that Reno found particularly stimulating was the “Rethinking the Criminalization of Youth” symposium held on Nov. 6 and 7. During this event, leaders in different areas ranging from psychology to law came and spoke about issues ranging from the juvenile death penalty to the Lee Boyd Malvo case.

Reno said that events like this help “bring academia together.” On the other hand, although she emphasized that Cornell is sitting on top of “a gold mine of knowledge,” she said that the University needs to make its research known to places around the country.

“I continue to find new work here at Cornell that can be helpful to communities across America,” Reno said.

As a chemistry major during her undergraduate days, Reno said that if she had the opportunity to come back as a student, she would take as much out of the experience as possible. One goal Reno wished she could have accomplished during her days as a student was earning a degree in public health, citing the importance of addressing communities and “preventing problems before they occur.”

Although Reno was last here just a short time ago in February, the University has undergone several changes since her last visit including the installation of President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 in June — a man Reno is “tremendously impressed” with.

A second significant change was the announcement of the newest Rhodes professors, most notably the appointment of former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) who starts her tenure this week. Although McKinney’s selection has caused much controversy, Reno said she has a positive impression of her.

“We worked together on civil rights issues,” Reno said. “She was a pleasure to work with.”

Reno also touched upon the current situation in Iraq. She said that it is “important for the U.N. to be involved” and that countries should all work together to ensure a peaceful transition.

In talking about her own experiences as the attorney general, Reno said that there are some situations which she could have handled better, including the events surrounding the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. On the other hand, she said that we also need to remember experiences such as this one in considering future decisions.

“We’ve got to take situations like Waco to learn the best we can,” Reno said.

She added that she has not felt “intimidated or frightened” when making decisions, and usually asks herself “what is the right thing to do.” In doing this, Reno said it makes you “much more comfortable with yourself.”

Although Reno said that she has no plans to seek political office in the near future, she is concerned about a number of issues including voting procedure, youth development, public education and the elderly. She also said that she will be “active in pursuing good candidates.”

With her free time, the Miami native, who enjoys scuba diving and sailing, wants to continue to “speak and teach and write and perfect my [kayaking] Eskimo roll.” Reno said that she loves the sky, greenery and water of the place she was born and raised, yet she still keeps a special affection for the University in her heart.

“I will always look forward to coming back to Cornell,” Reno said.


Archived article by Brian Tsao