The Office of Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility educates students on filling out the 2020 Census
The United States census has been impossible to escape this year. Whether it’s through television or radio ads, reminders in the mail or someone knocking at the front door, the 2020 census has been unavoidable.
Because of the document’s ramifications, Towson University’s Office of Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility is working to make sure every student is counted.
Each year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments,
schools, roads and other resources based on census data. It also determines the number
of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to Baltimore County, the Towson community loses $1,800 of funding for each person who goes uncounted, and, based on the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau, 38.3% of Towson University’s population is predicted not to be counted in census data, compared to approximately 10–20% in neighboring communities.
Luis Sierra, assistant director of civic engagement, says TU students, like all college student populations, use critical local resources, including roads, access to transportation, health care and businesses.
“Getting funds for those resources, however, depends on making sure students are counted in the right place each census,” Sierra says. “And in most instances, if they’re not living at their parents’ home, chances are the right place to be counted is the Towson area.”
Sierra and his team at Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility want to remind students that when responding to the 2020 census, they should be counted where they would be living and sleeping most of the time as of April 1, if it weren’t for the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is especially important for students who live (or lived) in an apartment or home off-campus, as they should communicate with their roommates to complete the form together. While Housing & Residence Life provide information on students living on-campus to the census, there is no way to know how many students live directly off-campus.
The Office of Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility has been working since the fall term to learn more about the census, and its opportunities and challenges on college campuses, to then implement education and outreach efforts.
Their first New York Times Talk of the year was on the census, facilitated by a U.S. Census Bureau staff member.
Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility has been in ongoing communication and partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore County and community organizations to organize programs such as the Maryland Higher Education Census Summit this past February—which featured students, faculty and staff from the state’s colleges and universities coming to TU’s campus to talk about the census.
The office continues to share the most up-to-date information from the Census Bureau, something that has become even more important given the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It was truly powerful and special to have such a wide representation of our state’s higher education community together under one roof,” Sierra says. “Together we were working through anticipated challenges, getting questions answered and creating solutions to apply to our respective campuses.”
The Office of Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility has partnered directly with students too. During the fall term, the staff worked with assistant professor Melanie Formentin’s mass communication class, whose project was focused on campus census efforts.
Their findings and recommendations not only informed many of the TU’s communications plans before COVID-19 but continue to be useful as Civic Engagement reaches out to students in the midst of the pandemic.
In the spring term, the office worked with TU’s chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., to get the word out.
The chapter's social action co-chair Jensine Bonner says the sorority is actively engaged in communication, even while social distancing. The Deltas were hoping to spend the spring hosting programs and events to promote the census. But with COVID-19 preventing students from being on campus, the Deltas worked instead through social media.
Bonner says continuing to build awareness of the census is important because it is something that can bring resources and funds into our communities.
“Being a black woman in America, I have seen what both prosperity and lack look like in my community,” Bonner says. “One of the most disconcerting things is that there is not equity, and that various disparities exist. Through things such as the census, everything from funding to more representation in the House of Representatives can be added to our communities.”
Students can learn more about the 2020 census and, most importantly, fill it out by visiting 2020Census.gov. They can also complete it by mail or over the phone.
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland.