February 19, 2010 | Tuff Daily | Original Article

Tufts students stress importance of census

Citizens across the country on April 1, or Census Day, will take part in the national census, and a number of Tufts students are mobilizing to increase awareness on campus about the importance of participating.

In the days leading up to the count, a team of Tufts students will be working to eliminate any confusion surrounding the census procedures and advertising to encourage campus and community−wide participation.

The team is composed of seniors Angela Lam and Daniela Valenzuela, junior Tomas Valdes and sophomore Jamie Love−Nichols, all of whom are Tisch Scholars.

While Lam and Valenzuela are coordinating on−campus census awareness efforts, Love−Nichols and Valdes are, together with Head of Somerville’s Complete Count Committee Daniel Hauck, working with local churches, organizations and businesses in East Somerville.

The census, which is gathered every 10 years, is a snapshot of the racial and generational distribution in the United States.

Laura Waldon, a U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist for the Boston region, said the objective of the census is to take a “freeze frame” of the nation. This is done in the hopes of getting an accurate picture of variations in age, gender and ethnicity across the country.

The census gathers information to be used from the macro level of federal government to the micro level of local municipalities. The tally is meant to count all current U.S. residents and is also designed to include all non−citizens, illegal residents and international students.

Data from the census determines important issues like the redrawing of congressional districts and the allocation of federal money for public needs.

For this reason, it is critical for college students to participate and ensure that information used to estimate allocation of federal funds to the relevant region is accurate, according to Waldon.

“An accurate campus census is especially important in Boston, where there are 35 plus colleges and universities filled with thousands of student residents,” Waldon told the Daily. “It is through proper census counts that adequate resources can be allocated for funding public services such as police forces and transportation. It is in the students’ best interest to participate.”

Love−Nichols noted that in the last census, the participation rate was particularly low in East Somerville and the area directly surrounding Tufts, where many students lived. The impact of continued underrepresentation could be significant.

“If these populations are underrepresented in the 2010 Census, then they will be underrepresented in federal funding for the next ten years,” Love−Nichols said.

Hauck echoed these sentiments, noting that full student participation can shape Tufts students’ experiences in Somerville and Medford.

He said that in the long run, the census could have a direct effect “on the allocation of funds for transportation, the extension of the MBTA Green Line and other types of public services.”

In past censuses, information about college students has been lacking because of the common misconception that students should be counted in their hometown residence as opposed to their current university inhabitance.

“College students are a unique demographic and one that is typically underrepresented in census counts,” Love−Nichols said.

Waldon explained that university students are an extremely mobile population, which increases the difficulty of taking accurate census measurements.

The problem is even worse on international college campuses because non−citizen students often incorrectly believe that they do not qualify for participation.

Love−Nichols noted that another obstacle to census participation is its use of mailed forms, which in the era of electronic correspondences can seem outdated to students.

“Our generation does not pay much attention to snail mail,” she said. “Since the census arrives by mail and must be sent back in via postal service, it doesn’t register on many people’s radar.”