Meet Dr. Beth Messner, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Chair of the CCIM task force for Inclusive Excellence. Beth holds a PhD from Bowling Green State University and has been with Ball State since 1994. In this interview, Beth shares her story and perspectives as an educator, researcher and diversity advocate.
Could you share the personal journey that led you to become a Professor in Communication Studies?
I’m one of those lucky people who always knew what career path I would follow – – my trajectory was influenced early by a wonderful 2nd grade teacher who made learning fun. It wasn’t until I reached high school and became involved in speech and theatre activities that I realized what I wanted to teach, however. Through high school, college and graduate school, I gradually developed a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the power that language, in its many forms, has in shaping our understanding of and interaction with the world around us. This, ultimately led to my teaching and research focus on the art of rhetoric – – the use of written, spoken and visual symbols.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Historically, the teaching of rhetoric was a pragmatic affair aimed at persuading public audiences. The ancient Greeks recognized that well-trained orators could have a sizeable influence on public policy, legal decisions and other dimensions of civic life. So, their emphasis was on “learning by doing.” My approach to teaching is similarly pragmatic, although I have a great appreciation for the theory that helps us understand rhetorical situations and the implications of our choices have on the rhetorical process.
I also am a firm believer in collaborative, immersive and community-engaged approaches to learning. That’s one reason why I have embraced immersive learning in my classrooms. My students and I have created educational initiatives, written speeches for community members, developed public history projects for the local historical society and worked with community leaders to advance knowledge of local civil rights activism. We have a lot to learn from one another and, by working together, can and should use that knowledge to enhance our community.
What is your research focus?
One of the coolest things about teaching and studying rhetoric is that it allows me to meld together my interest in history, politics and social change. When these arenas intersect, the rhetoric that emerges typically articulates a vision of how people see their world and wish to shape their futures. My research often examines those rhetorical portraits of the past, present and future. Some avenues I’ve explored include the rhetorical visions of addiction recovery communities; the rhetorical vision and strategic appeals embedded in hate speech; public debate about honoring civil rights leaders; and public memory and commemoration of civil rights history.
You chair the CCIM Inclusive Excellence task force. Can you give us an overview of the projects the group is working on?
My passion for studying and advancing civil rights has prompted my involvement in many diversity and equity initiatives across campus. One of the most recent is my role as Chair of the CCIM Task Force on Inclusive Excellence. Our task force is charged with supporting a culture that promotes respect, inclusion and civil discourse. To enact this mission, we have taken on a number of important projects, including sponsoring a climate dialogue involving undergraduate majors in the college and developing a pedagogical toolbox for faculty. One of our primary goals in the upcoming year is to enact recommendations for change made by student participants in our climate dialogue.
What was the proudest moment in your career?
In over 30 years at Ball State University, I’ve been blessed to have many meaningful experiences: watching students struggle with an idea and then experience an “aha” moment, having manuscripts accepted for presentation and publication, being recognized for my service and diversity advocacy efforts, collaborating with smart and passionate colleagues on important projects and helping our alumni celebrate their life successes.
The most meaningful, however, was being awarded the university’s 2017-2018 Outstanding Immersive Learning Award for facilitating the Freedom Bus project. This was a multi-year project that culminated in the development of a mobile museum that shares stories of local civil rights history and activism. It was such an honor to accept this award on behalf of the countless students who invested their creativity, knowledge and hard work into this project and the many community partners who supported and guided those efforts! For me, this moment represented the merger of those activities I view as most professionally valuable: students reaching for a “big dream” and succeeding, an opportunity to learn and create, and making a contribution to our community that can inform how we understand our world and reach for our future.
Room: LB 314