Dr. Maggie Dickinson, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies



September 11, 2020 | Academics, Faculty, Faculty Feature, First Year Experience, Humanities and Social Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Research, Urban Studies

Dr. Maggie Dickinson

Dr. Maggie Dickinson

“I want for students to understand how their own curiosity can become a resource for self-education… that they can take control of their own education, follow their interests, and trust themselves to learn independently.”

“What drew me to Guttman is teaching,” Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Dr. Maggie Dickinson proclaims with passion, “that community of faculty who are just so dedicated to understanding teaching as a practice and putting that at the center of their work.” The Online Course Development training she led with fellow Guttman faculty Dr. Kristina Baines, which became urgent as COVID-19 took hold in Spring 2020, embodied this value. “Dean Blake really supported us in making it a home-grown professional development. We drew on the resources at Guttman to put it together [so] it really built on the work that everybody was already doing.” Since coming to the College in 2016, Prof. Dickinson has observed the shift to recognizing “that we have faculty who are leaders in understanding some of these [pedagogical] questions and we can draw on them as experts.”

Holding a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center, Prof. Dickinson’s expertise is in the quintessentially interdisciplinary field of food studies. She was “thrilled” to have her first book published in November 2019, exploring “the expansion of the SNAP or food stamp program over the last 20 years [and] the growth of emergency food providers, like soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks.” By examining stagnating wages, worker insecurity, and other factors in a profoundly “insecure labor market,” Feeding the Crisis: Care and Abandonment in America’s Food Safety Net demonstrates how “food has become the answer, even though it doesn’t really solve the problem of poverty.” In another research endeavor, Prof. Dickinson and a CUNY colleague are conducting a USDA-funded study to inquire “why college students don’t apply for SNAP” even when they are eligible. Existing data reveals that “about 80% of the people eligible for SNAP get [it],” compared to only around 35% of college students. Through a survey administered to students at five CUNY colleges and interviews drawn from the 500 respondents, the researchers aim to “understand why [and] to inform how CUNY is addressing food security issues… The implications will certainly be relevant for all the campuses and the university as a whole.”

Logically, food-related issues are a recurring theme for Prof. Dickinson’s courses, including the Critical Issue component of City Seminar in the First-Year Experience; an Urban Studies special topics course; and capstone courses in the Liberal Arts and Sciences Program, including one on disaster relief and inequality that was “almost too timely given the pandemic.” In addition, she has been involved in developing the new Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course and counts Sex and Gender in Urban Life among her favorites to teach. “I see college as helping students figure out where they fit in the world and what they want to do,” Prof. Dickinson reflects. Social sciences “subject matter lends itself to thinking about the world [and] one’s place in [it], so a lot of what I do is encourage students to figure that out.” For instance, she points out that, “you can’t really take a class on sex and gender and not think about your own gender identity, so a lot of what we do in that class is make space for students to ask questions and think through their own experiences… to see themselves as experts in their own right.” Prof. Dickinson assigns ethnographic projects that intentionally encourage students to exercise the “kind of freedom within research constraints to figure out their own interests.”

When several students she first taught during their first year took her course in a Program of Study, Prof. Dickinson bore witness to “how much they had advanced,” evolving from the stance of “I guess I’ll go to college because that’s a good thing to do” to having figured out their next step, stating: “I want to be a teacher,” or “I want to go into art therapy. I know that’s what I want to do.” To Prof. Dickinson, Guttman’s special role as an incubator of student growth and ambition is made apparent when graduates circle back for “mentorship and guidance” in case they change their minds. Having transferred to Brooklyn College to study physical therapy, one former student went to Puerto Rico with the CUNY Service Corps for the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Maria. Upon her return, she visited Prof. Dickinson and declared: “I want to do politics. How do you do that?” Together, the Guttman faculty and alum are determined to find out.