Maggie Hagerman was new to Mississippi when she arrived to begin a new faculty position in the MSU Department of Sociology in 2014.
Six years later, the associate professor of sociology and Massachusetts native is continuing to learn more about the state while helping her students learn more about the world around them. Hagerman said that though the state faces many social issues, the work taking place to make the state better for all who live here is inspiring.
“I did not realize how much incredible social organizing goes on in Mississippi,” Hagerman said. “I was unaware of the extent of grassroots movements and individuals working to address problems in our communities like food insecurity, unequal education, and poverty. By living here and learning from my students, I have seen that there are a lot of people trying to solve these social problems. As a sociologist and a human being, I’m very interested in that.”
As a researcher, Hagerman’s recent work has focused on how social environments influence the way children perceive issues of race. For two years, Hagerman conducted ethnographic research in affluent, predominantly white communities to study the ways white children learn about race and racism. The result of the research was “White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America,” a book published by NYU Press in 2018. The book has been recognized with awards from the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
In addition to the academic recognition, the book and Hagerman’s research has been discussed in media outlets such as the New York Times, The Guardian, NBC and the Washington Post. Hagerman said the interest in her work partially stems from the increased focus on racial issues in the American public, from Barack Obama’s election as president to the protests and demonstrations that took place this summer.
“Not many researchers take seriously the perspectives of youth and actually talk with kids about social inequality,” Hagerman said. “But as it turns out, many people are curious what kids think about race and racism. I learned that so much of how white children develop ideas about race is connected to their interpretation of all kinds of everyday patterns that they observe. The ethnographic method that I use allows me to access the perspectives of the kids and also the parents.”
Serving as the Department of Sociology’s graduate coordinator, Hagerman said she enjoys supporting graduate students as they carry out their own research. She also is passionate about teaching undergraduate students. As she uses sociology to help students learn more about the world around them, she said she also learns more about Mississippi and the South from her students.
“We have really great students at Mississippi State who have a lot of really important experiences as a result of growing up in this region,” Hagerman said. “They can see how social problems have impacted them, but they are also very hopeful about the possibilities of making Mississippi a better place—and committed to doing that work.”