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Public Engagement

Brooks School Learning and Leading through Difference Initiative

We proudly launch the Brooks School Learning and Leading through Difference Initiative, supported in part by a generous gift from Brenda Weissman Benn ’02 and Michael Benn ’02. This initiative will help guide us in building on Cornell’s commitment to public engagement, strengthening democracy, promoting civil discourse, advancing conflict resolution, and developing our capacity to be thoughtful, purpose-driven leaders. Under the umbrella of our Learning and Leading through Difference Initiative, and with seed funds generously provided by John W. Nixon ’53, we are poised to bring to campus the inaugural distinguished policy fellows. You can read more about that program below. We will also bring to campus organizations dedicated to advancing principled debate to solve societal problems, such as No Labels. 

I look forward to growing our Learning and Leading Through Difference Initiative in the coming years and sharing updates as it progresses.

— Dean Colleen L. Barry


Student leading debate discussion


“Is a policy of absolute freedom of speech, without exceptions, the best policy?” on April 10 featured students from the Cornell Speech and Debate Program and the Cornell Political Union. ILR and the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy sponsored the event.

Read the full story here


John W. Nixon ’53 Distinguished Policy Fellows Initiative at the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

This initiative brings senior decision makers and thought leaders in public policy to Cornell University to engage with our campus community on critical issues from varied political viewpoints with a focus on fostering constructive dialogue and advancing evidence-informed policy.

Julian Castro speaking to student group with Brooks School Banner in background
Secretary Julián Castro, Brooks School Distinguished Nixon Policy Fellow, speaks with Brooks School students about his journey into politics.

Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and former Congressman Tom Davis (R-Virginia) will serve as the inaugural John W. Nixon ’53 Distinguished Policy Fellows.

Fellows are invited to campus to guest lecture, participate in symposia, host student office hours to talk about careers in public policy and contemporary policy issues, and meet with faculty on research aligned with their expertise. 


Martin Ginsburg ’53 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 program

Three performers on stage at Willard Straight Hall
“Scalia/Ginsburg,” a comedic opera written by Derrick Wang.

The Brooks School will honor the enormous, enduring legacy of Martin Ginsburg ’53 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 biennially. The program will highlight the policy issues that were close to Justice Ginsburg’s heart and feature opera, music, and other forms of bridge-building artistic expression that were her passion. The Cornell community will be enriched by this program made possible thanks to Christie and Jeff Weiss ’79.

2023 Martin Ginsburg ’53 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 Program: “Scalia/Ginsburg”

The Brooks School, in partnership with Opera Ithaca, presented “Scalia/Ginsburg”, a comic opera about the differences between Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, on September 23 in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall.

“The deep and remarkable friendship of Justices Ginsburg and Scalia endured across decades of what Justice Ginsburg herself called ‘frequently dueling opinions,’” President Martha E. Pollack said. “That friendship is at the core of ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’: an important, timely and delightful demonstration of the kind of civil discourse, commitment to shared values and respect for difference that we hope to strengthen this year at Cornell.”

Along with President Pollack, Colleen L. Barry, dean of the Brooks School, and Ginsburg’s granddaughter, Clara Spera, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, delivered remarks before the performance. Spera said, “This performance of Scalia/Ginsburg, marries two of my grandmother’s great loves – opera and Cornell.”

 “…“Bubbe” as I called her, often said that if she could choose a talent, she would most like to have, it would be to have a glorious voice. She wanted to be a great diva, in her own words. I often told her she was a diva just of a different sort.” — Clara Spera


Brooks School Public Engagement Initiatives in the News