Paying it forward

After finding love and friendship at State, alumni couple works to support future Sycamores’ growth and self-discovery.

When Doug Meagher, ’80, and Jeff Barnett, ’82, offered to set up a matching grant at Indiana State this year, it wasn’t a hard decision. “We’ve always had a close connection to Indiana State in our hearts.” Meagher said. “Now we have the opportunity at our stage in life to give back.”

The two started dating in 1980 after meeting through a mutual friend. “We’ve been together ever since,” Barnett said. The couple married in 2008.

When they met, Barnett was midway through his bachelor’s degree program in elementary education. Meagher had completed his undergraduate degree in political science and had returned to State for additional teaching courses.

Meagher, from Crawfordsville, Ind., and Barnett, from North Salem, Ind., were the first to go to college in their immediate families. “For me personally,” Meagher said, “Indiana State made all the difference in the world. I was much the better for having gone there.”

Barnett, left, and Meagher were photographed by their friend and fellow Sycamore John Pickel in 1981.

Meagher said he’d been shy in high school and “not one that you would think would speak up or become involved in many student activities.” However, at State he was a motivated student and participated in the student government.

They each said they found the State faculty and administration open and welcoming, creating an environment where they could grow. “Certainly meeting and getting to know other gay people in a more comfortable and accepting environment made a lot of difference,” Meagher said.

“Most of the gay life when we were students was mainly just private connections,” Meagher explained. There was an LGBT organization on campus, but Barnett said they didn’t find it very active. It was more common for friends to get together for parties or groups of friends to hang out — many with whom they’re still in regular contact.

At the time Meagher and Barnett met, it was on the heels of the sexual revolution of the 1970s. “In general, there was a great deal more acceptance of gay people,” Meagher said, “and it seemed as though things were progressing towards a greater level of acceptance. But then the AIDS crisis happened.”

With the AIDS epidemic, there was political and social backlash. “It was all very frightening, as we saw more friends and people we knew become ill. Some survived because of the amazing advances in medicine, but too many were lost,” Meagher said. “We admire those who fought the backlash and the stigma of infection, and doubt that the more widespread acceptance we enjoy today would be possible without their courage.”

They each continued their education beyond their undergraduate degrees. Barnett received a master’s degree in library and information science. He serves as research director for economic development at the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

After getting his master’s in public administration at State, Meagher received a law degree and became an attorney.

They had always wanted to pay it forward through a State donation. The plan for the matching grant formed during a conversation with Willie Banks Jr., vice president for Student Affairs, when they learned about a project to create a student center for LGBTQ students.

“I think Doug and Jeff are good examples of finding someone and also thriving no matter what’s happening in the world,” Banks said. “I think especially in this day and age, we always need good role models, especially people who love an institution of higher learning and decide to give back.”

The couple is offering a $10,000 matching grant to benefit the LGBTQ student center, challenging other alumni to contribute and double that amount. Donations raised will be used to support student programs and services through the student center, Banks said.

The couple initially hoped the school would support funding for an LGBTQ alumni association, and they’re still pushing for that effort.

“Our friends and we have talked about it for a long time,” Barnett said. “And there were some attempts to get it together, but perhaps it’s just a matter of time and resources, and somebody dedicated to taking on all the extra effort to make it happen.”

For now, their support will help students gain the kind of life-altering college experience they found.

“The whole thing about being an undergraduate is it’s a stressful challenge all by itself, and particularly if you’re the first from your immediate family to go to college,” Barnett said, “but if you throw in on top of that that you’re coming to self discovery, you’re learning about your sexuality and coming out. That’s an awful lot for a young person to deal with.”

Meagher added, “We managed all right, but the student center should make it easier to meet other people in a safe and healthy environment.”

To contribute to the LGBTQ matching grant, click here.

One Comment

  1. doug said he was shy in HS, at ISU he was a great student leader and show great leadership. I am proud to call doug my friend.

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