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Talking to the #UMBCSky guy

Civic duty is something one has probably heard much about in the past month of political affairs. As active body members of the country, it is said that we should perform our civil duties by voting in elections and maybe even the occasional community service.

However, in the constantly changing political and cultural sphere of 2016, voting and brief community service is only the scratching the service of civic engagement that college students can partake in. Fortunately enough for us, The Retriever was able to sit down with David Hoffman, the assistant director of Student Life for Civic Agency, to talk about just that, along with his thoughts on UMBC as a community.

Hoffman is an alum of UCLA, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Harvard Law School and UMBC. After his years in education, he spent time as a lawyer in California and worked as a community organizer in California, Massachusetts and Maryland. He then became part of UMBC’s faculty in 2003. Hoffman is one of the friendliest guys on campus and he is always active on Twitter. It is clear, based on our interview, that Hoffman thinks of UMBC and the opportunities faculty, staff and students have here.

“Civic agency is the capacity to work with other people to bring about positive social change,” Hoffman explained. “My job is to lead to a group in Student Life that supports students’ leadership development and engagement on campus and beyond. I also work with faculty, staff and students on an initiative called BreakingGround.”

BreakingGround is one of UMBC’s potent, but fairly undiscovered, tools for civil agency. The BreakingGround website is a hub for all things civic at UMBC. There you can find pieces and articles from across the web regarding civic topics, as well as articles from UMBC students.

“BreakingGround is partly a philosophy and partly an organizing process,” said Hoffman. “The philosophy is that people can pull together to collectively shape their communities and they can do that in ways that go well beyond voting and providing occasional community service.”

“For example, you can approach your professional role in a way that supports communities and democracy. You can be a civic doctor, or a civic professor, or a civic lawyer,” said Hoffman. “In addition to that philosophy, it’s an organizing process in that people are having conversations across campus about how to embed the idea that ordinary people can work together to change the world through courses, research and campus activities.”

Hoffman also shed some light on his philosophy of civic agency as it applies to our country in addition to our campus. “I think that, fifty years from now, we’re going to look back on this time in American history and say the two biggest challenges that we had to confront were climate change and a crisis of democracy,” Hoffman said. “Climate change is well known. We know what the threat is and what the consequences of not addressing it could be.”

“The crisis of democracy, I think, is evident all around us, but we haven’t yet gotten to the point where it’s common to point to it as a thing that we can address together – a problem that can be solved,” Hoffman said.

“People feel powerless and think that they don’t have a meaningful say in the policies that affect their lives despite living in one of the most advanced times and places in human history. Helping those people discover how to connect and work together to decide how they want to live is crucial. If we cannot address that problem, the consequences could be as devastating as those of climate change,” Hoffman explained.

Hoffman continuously expressed his love and gratitude for UMBC, and believes that his philosophy of civic agency is something that has the potential to truly spread and live on at this campus and hopefully, beyond. He remarked, “I love the people that I get to work with. This place seems to attract creative minds and people with energy and hope.” Anyone who follows Hoffman on Twitter knows that he lives and breathes UMBC, particularly through his trending hashtag, UMBCsky.

“I’ve been taking pictures of the sky outside of my office window for a while now. I come from South California, where the sky wasn’t nearly as varied as it is here. The sky here looks beautiful every day. Pictures that I take for UMBCsky remind me to stop and appreciate what we have. Now that it is trending, it has become somewhat of a community art project to remind each other that there really is beauty all around us,” Hoffman stated.

Hoffman finished our interview with a reminder for all of us here on campus. “The opportunity we have here is precious and I hope no one sees their time here at UMBC as a time of ‘just passing through.’ We are all here together at such a pivotal time and the things we make together truly matter.”