Andrew Harnik / The New York Times

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's '54 insurmountable legacy has many Cornellians believing there should be a permanent nod to her on Cornell's campus.

October 9, 2020

Students Contemplate Renaming Buildings, Departments in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ’54 Honor

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On the fourth floor of Clara Dickson Hall is the room where Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 was thought to have begun her time at Cornell. Now, that room is a utility closet.

On Sept. 18, after her passing, Cornell students living in Clara Dickson decorated the door with posters and messages to the late justice, both as an outlet for their grief and as a celebration of her life. While students posted their condolences on Room 4546, which is now a utility closet, it appears that it is not the room everyone thought it to be — her room was actually 4564.

Calling for one of the dormitories to be named after her on North Campus, a petition was circulated days later with about 1,500 signatures as of Thursday night.

Prof. Rosemary Batt, human resource studies, believes that naming the next new dormitory after Ginsburg is an excellent way to honor her legacy at Cornell.

“The campus buildings we live in should remind us every day of the amazing leaders like RBG who had their start at Cornell,”  Batt said. “She provides such an important role model for all of us — no matter what age, gender, race, ethnicity or country of origin.”

At Cornell, the Committee on Memorials and Named Facilities, run by the Alumni Affairs and Development department is charged with the review and approval of building names on campus. Any building name requires approval by the University president and Board of Trustees executive committee.

When asked about naming a building on campus after Ginsburg, University spokesperson John Carberry explained where most Cornell buildings get their names.

“The majority of building namings on campus, especially those named in recent decades, are the result of philanthropic gifts from alumni, parents and friends who have supported the construction or renovation of those buildings,” Carberry wrote in an email to The Sun, referring instead to other ways in which Cornell is honoring Ginsburg’s legacy.

Many Cornell students have their own ideas regarding how Cornell should honor Ginsburg’s legacy. Ella Yitzhaki ’24, a government major, believes that rather than naming a building after the late Justice, the University should name the government department after her.

“It just seems so fitting,”  Yitzhaki said. “After all, she was a government major at Cornell and government is what she devoted her entire life to. Instead of just naming a dorm after her, I think, that would better encapsulate her legacy at Cornell.”

Despite some discord regarding how the University should honor Ginsburg, many Cornellians agree that it is important for her memory to be recognized here on the Hill.

Cornell Law School Dean Eduardo Peñalver, experienced Ginsburg’s prowess on the Supreme Court firsthand when he clerked for the late Justice John Paul Stevens in 2000. From his experience and research, the magnitude of the legacy that she left behind reaches far beyond Cornell.

After her graduation from Cornell, Ginsburg entered Harvard law school in a class where women only made up less than 2 percent.

“She was a transformative figure in law,” Peñalver said, “As a practicing lawyer, she helped craft the legal doctrine that made it possible for women to have a legal career. There have never been more opportunities for women in the legal profession than there are today, due in no small part to Justice Ginsburg. Hers is a fascinating story of a woman who overcame tremendous obstacles and removed them for the people behind her.”