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ETSU couple shares a love for speech and debate

Brandon Paykamian • Oct 2, 2019 at 9:00 PM

Laughton and Erin Messmer are partners as well as senior lecturers in the East Tennessee State University Department of Communication and Performance in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Laughton — who has been at ETSU for nearly two decades — holds a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University and a master’s from Indiana State University. Erin holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama and began working at ETSU seven years ago. 

Laughton and Erin direct the Speech and Debate Team, which helps students hone in on persuasive speaking. The team recently won awards for state champion, first place, top speaker, quarterfinalist, third place and more from two separate competitions.

Both share a mutual love for speech and debate, which they said improves their communication as a couple. On Monday, the two lecturers corresponded with the Press to tell us more about themselves, starting with some fun facts. 

Favorite musician:

Erin: Florence and the Machine

Laughton: Leon Russell

Favorite food:

Erin: I love Mexican food, especially tacos.

Laughton: I love Chinese cuisine.

Dogs or cats:

Erin: I’ve always been more of a dog person, but I feel like I have to say both for this question because we have a dog and a cat. I never knew that I could love a cat until I met ours. She’s become my shadow around the house.

Laughton: I’ve always grown up with both, at least a dog and a cat in the same house. And then I went through a period of living in apartments, so cats became more common because they are easier to care for.

Pet peeves:

Erin: People who don’t listen and talk over others.

Laughton: When people make themselves way too comfortable at a restaurant. The dining room of a restaurant is not your house.

Ideal vacation spot:

Erin: I’m in love with the scenery of Scotland. I would love to see it in person.

Laughton: I would love to see New Zealand. I hear that it’s beautiful.

What got you both interested in debate?

Laughton: It started as a service project for my department. At first, it was a club, but then it grew into a fully functioning speech and debate team that liked to compete. I enjoyed being in that environment.

Erin: My background is in public speaking as opposed to debate. I became involved when I began working at ETSU and helped Laughton with the team. Doing debate correctly is a real talent and I enjoy watching students sharpen their craft through practice and competition. The spontaneity that debate brings is fun.

How does your debate and speech skills affect communication as a couple? Does it ever make for interesting arguments? 

Laughton: Sure. Especially because there are so many reasons for arguing. We argue for fun sometimes about silly things. It tests our communication skills.

Erin: Knowing the traits of a good debate has taught us what we need to make arguments to one another, even over simple things like where to eat dinner. More than anything, our knowledge of debate has enhanced our communication skills with one another.

How did you both end up working at ETSU and what do you enjoy most about it?

Erin: I came to ETSU fresh out of my graduate program. I’d seen a job posting for a general education lecturer and knew that was what I wanted to do next. I’m fortunate that I was offered the job. Not only did I meet my husband and get to work with him daily, but I enjoy working with my amazing students, both in the classroom and on our debate team. I have so much fun with them.

Laughton: I came to ETSU because I caught the teaching bug in graduate school and the job description sounded like a good fit for my interests. I love that I get to work with my better half, and my colleagues and the students are wonderful.

Who is your favorite orator and why? 

Laughton: It is hard to come up with one favorite orator since they cover so much ground and cause. Individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou inspire. Spalding Gray told a great story and Hosea Jan “Ze” Frank can make you laugh.

Erin: I’ve always loved President Obama. His speeches conveyed so much hope, optimism, and messages of the American spirit. It was always a dream of mine to be a speechwriter for him.

What interpersonal and professional skills can be learned through debate?

Laughton: Critical thinking, appreciation for a wide array of perspectives, and a sense of pride for overcoming the number one fear that people have: public speaking.

Erin: Debate also teaches quick-thinking and analytical reasoning skills. People who participate in debate are truly prepared for any tasks or challenges presented in their future careers.

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