A fence once stood between Jayma Meyer and her dreams.
Meyer was six, growing up near Bryan Park in Bloomington. The park pool was then the home of Doc Councilman’s powerhouse IU men’s swim team. There was no team for women.
“I remember spending hours standing outside that fence, watching the men train,” she says. “I wanted what those guys had – the dedication to a team where they excelled and had a blast while engaging in incredibly hard work.”
Meyer started swimming. As a teenager, she was breaking state and national records in the butterfly. There was no high school team for girls.
Meyer went to Florida, trained with a top coach, and prepared for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. At one point she was the ninth fastest in the world at her event. Sidelined by an injury, she just missed making the U.S. team. Instead of becoming an Olympian, she became a Hoosier, enrolling at IU and watching the games on TV. “I was disappointed and, quite frankly, in a funk,” she says. “I watched my friends compete, some of whom were swimmers at IU. Of course, they were men.” There was still no team at IU for women.
Jayma Meyer with NCAA President Mark Emmert, discussing the future of college athletics on campus this spring.
Meyer looked outside of the pool for what she was missing. “I needed a team, goals, and motivation,” she says. “I found it at SPEA.”
SPEA, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, had just been launched with the audacious goal of breaking through the barriers between science and policy, between business, government and nonprofits, and between the world as it was and as it should be.
“I was in the first graduating class,” Meyer says. “It provided me with a structure, a mission, and ‘teammates’ – fellow students and faculty. It challenged me and renewed my self-confidence while giving me wide latitude to study what interested me most. It was enormously satisfying again to be part of a group, especially one seeking the greater good.”
What good would Meyer seek? She found that answer where she had found so much frustration: sports and equal opportunity. From SPEA, Meyer went to Georgetown University, earned a law degree, built a robust career in antitrust law, and is now in her 35th year at the global law firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Her pursuit of fair competition in business evolved into a search for fairness on the field.
The federal law known as Title IX, introduced in 1972 by Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, promised equal opportunity in athletics for women. It was an empty promise without judicial muscle, so Meyer and her allies went to work, taking on Title IX cases for K-12 girls. In one recent case in California, Meyer and her team won an agreement with a charter high school to improve fields and facilities for girls’ teams, open up more sports for female participants, and install a batting cage for its girls softball team.
More than just batting cages are at stake, Meyer says: “Sports is the best unifiers from which we can bring people of all nationalities, races, and religions together. Simply, sports can unite disparate groups and be a platform to highlight injustices as we work toward fairness, inclusion, diversity, integrity, and respect and to develop public policy solutions that reflect those values.”
The search for those policy solutions brought Meyer back to where she found her first academic team. She teaches sports law at SPEA during spring semesters, grounding the curriculum in the concept of the power of sports. Her students learn how sports builds integrity and fosters humanity as demonstrated by athletes ranging from LeBron James to Billie Jean King and world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis.
Meyer also serves SPEA as a member of the Dean’s Council where she says her goal is assisting in tackling tomorrow’s challenges while staying true to its core mission of developing solutions that make the world a better place: “I want to make certain SPEA continues to provide the underpinning I received so that thousands and thousands more students can make a difference.”
Jayma Meyer is a prominent lawyer, effective advocate for equality, and inspiring contributor to the success of the students at her alma mater. The little girl who stood outside the Bryan Park Pool is now on the inside, helping all she serves crash through fences and fulfill dreams: “Together, we will succeed!”