Feeling the Connection
- By Jay P. Goyette
William A. Meezan ’67 says when he was at UVM back in ‘60s, “first of all, there was no such thing as gay, certainly no safe place on campus, and nobody identified that way.” But as he’s reconnected with the university in recent years, he says, he sees that things have really changed.
Meezan was invited to give the keynote address at the LGBTQA Center’s Rainbow Graduation ceremony in the spring of 2012, and he says it’s no exaggeration to say that experience was “a highlight of my life.” More than 300 people turned out for that event.
A national expert on child welfare, Meezan earned his bachelor’s in psychology at UVM, a master’s in social work from Florida State University in 1969 and his doctorate in social work from Columbia University in 1978. He is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service, holding the Mary Ann Quaranta Chair for Social Justice for Children. During a distinguished academic career, he has also been the John Milner Professor of Child Welfare at the University of Southern California, the Marion Elizabeth Blue Professor of Children and Families at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, and professor and dean of the College of Social Work at Ohio State University.
He began to reconnect with the University of Vermont through the Reunion Weekend activities and credits Dot Brauer, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning & Advocate Center, and Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president for human resources, diversity and multicultural affairs, with making his relationship with his alma mater as strong as it is today. “To come back 45 years later as a gay married man and find this extraordinary resource for students was just so important for me,” he says. “It made me think about what it would have meant when I first started at UVM 50 years ago, to have had that available to me, how much richer school would have been.”
Meezan and his husband, W. Michael Brittenback, have recently decided to show their appreciation of the work of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning & Advocate Center by making a provision in their will to endow a Meezan/Brittenback Fund for the LGBTQA Center. The main goals of the fund are to provide emergency financial assistance for students at risk of having to leave the university due to their financial circumstances; to establish new activities and services at the LGBTQA Center; and to enhance the Center’s current activities and services.
A strong supporter of the university and its mission, Meezan is enthusiastic about the leadership of President Tom Sullivan, whom he describes as “realistic but ambitious” about his plans for UVM. “He knows what he has and the gem it can become as long as he doesn’t change the core of that university. And that’s very rare for a university president.”
Dot Brauer says her first contact with Meezan was when she and the LGBTQA Center were both brand new at UVM. She said he responded to her first mailing to alumni, which was not a solicitation for funds, with a modest gift as an expression of support. “That kind of vote of confidence was a great morale booster,” she recalls. “It’s hard to describe how much it meant to me to have this person who had never met me saying, ‘I can’t help a lot, but what you’re doing really matters to me, and I want to help.’ It was very cool and very welcome.” The two kept in touch over the years as the Center grew in its scope and programmatic offerings. When she learned of Bill and Michael’s estate intention, she says, she was overwhelmed. “The impact of Bill and Michael’s gift will be profound on this office,” Brauer says. “It will double our operating budget.”
Meezan received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from UVM at the May, 2013, commencement ceremony, and he is a member of the UVM Foundation Leadership Council. “My days at UVM were wonderful,” he reflects. “I’ve always felt a connection back there.”