UMBC launches Center for Democracy and Civic Life at a critical national moment

UMBC’s Division of Student Affairs has announced the launch of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, led by Director David Hoffman and Assistant Director Romy Hübler. In collaboration with on- and off-campus partners, the center will help students develop knowledge, skills, and approaches for deep and effective community work.

“The Center for Democracy and Civic Life’s launch comes at a critical time for our nation, when our divisions and challenges dominate the news and hope for democracy’s future can seem elusive,” said Nancy Young, vice president for Student Affairs, in a campus message earlier today. She described how the center “will generate, inspire, and share innovations in civic and democratic engagement, and support collaborative activity that helps to build thriving civic cultures at UMBC and in communities involved in the center’s work.”

“Our work builds from the idea that civic life is everywhere: not just in elections or community service opportunities, but in our everyday interactions in nearly every space in which we live and work,” explains Hübler ‘09, modern languages and linguistics, M.A. ‘11, intercultural communication, Ph.D. ‘15, language, literacy and culture.

“That’s a very empowering idea, because it suggests that meaningful social progress is within our reach,” adds Hoffman, Ph.D. ’13, language, literacy, and culture.

Teacher and a several students sit around tables set in the shape of a circle, eating snacks, typing on laptops, talking and smiling.
David Hoffman and UMBC students in a class on democracy and civic engagement.

Hoffman came to UMBC in 2003. In the past 15 years he has guided student leadership, engagement, and government work, and has led the development and implementation of UMBC’s BreakingGround initiative. Beyond UMBC, Hoffman serves as a national thought leader on democratic engagement and higher education. Hoffman was named an inaugural American Democracy Project Civic Fellow and is a member of the Steering Committee for the American Democracy Project and the National Advisory Board for Imagining America.

Hübler joined the UMBC staff in 2016 as coordinator of campus life for student organizations. She has focused on creating programs to support students’ development as leaders with a meaningful impact on their communities. She has also served as a key strategist for BreakingGround, and has held fellowships with Campus Compact, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and Imagining America.

Hübler and Hoffman in front of The Commons.

The scholarship and strategies around civic engagement that Hoffman, Hübler, and their colleagues are developing are already impacting national conversations. Just a few days ago, Bennington College President Mariko Silver highlighted UMBC in Forbes as a model for how universities can align their practices with civic ideals, such as creating democratic classrooms, fostering humane relationships, welcoming dissent, and making engagement with external communities a campus priority.

Democracy scholar Harry Boyte also highlights UMBC as a national model in his new book Awakening Democracy Through Public Work: Pedagogies of Empowerment.

Through the new Center for Democracy and Civic Life, and the partnerships it will help grow, says Hoffman, “We can develop the knowledge, skills, and resourcefulness to work across differences and address challenges together, and to build thriving civic communities. UMBC is the perfect setting for that kind of learning, with so many people and programs already contributing to a vibrant civic culture.”

Featured image: Romy Hübler and David Hoffman in front of The Commons at UMBC. All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.