In recent days, the coronavirus has been dominating all our thoughts, social media and bandwidth. Students’ lives have been upturned as universities across the nation close down, move classes online and force students off campus with little to no regard for the potential implications for their individual housing or economic situations. As students frantically move out and figure out where they will now live, coronavirus is the primary concern.
However, another c-word strives to be known to those moving out of off-campus apartments and living situations. Yesterday, April 1, was Census Day. The census, as mandated by the Constitution, occurs only once every 10 years, yet many don’t even know that this year is a census cycle. Off-campus college students are the least likely to know about the census and often mistakenly rely on their parents to count them in the census, and this year the confusion is likely to skyrocket.
Students in college need and utilize resources such as roads, public transportation and health clinics, which are supported by funds allocated by the decennial census. Undercounting students in the areas where they live and go to school has long-term consequences for the representation and resources that students have. The frenzy around coronavirus will thus be felt not only for this year and any subsequent years we spend dealing with it but also for the years that students will not have the adequate public transportation, clinics or resources that they deserve and need. The census is just as much a public health issue because it allocates funding for the building of hospitals and because filling it out in a timely manner allows census workers to avoid knocking on your door in May, a time when the coronavirus outbreak will likely be at its peak in Texas.
Invitations to fill out the census began to be sent out Thursday, March 12, as many students prepared to or had already left their apartment mailboxes for spring break. Those census invitations will likely sit unread in many mailboxes, as the University of Texas at Austin and many other universities urged students to not return to campus after break. Students who do happen to return and check their mail may not realize what the census entails and that they are responsible for counting themselves and their roommates.
Even if students have moved or will move back in with their parents or a different residence, they must fill out the census for the place where they expected live and sleep most of the time as of April 1, 2020, which would be the residence at which they stay while attending college. Many students may rely currently on having their parents count them in the census, but parents are not responsible unless the student commutes from their parent’s home. While students in on-campus dorms will be counted automatically in the census via the University administration, it is the off-campus students, which make up more than 80% of the student population, who are likely to go undercounted. And yes, even though 2400 Nueces is a university-owned apartment, students who live there are responsible for counting themselves in.
University students and minority groups such as Asian American and Pacific Islanders, such as myself, are least likely to know about and fill out the census. Some may feel that participation is unsafe, but participation is completely protected and ensures that traditionally underserved groups receive the funding and representation they need. Everyone, but especially underrepresented folks, must count themselves in to make their voices count. Only groups that wish to keep our voices marginalized will benefit from us accepting our places in the margins. In a time when young folks may want to resist current failing systems, the best resistance is participation, thus ensuring resources for those who will better our communities now and into the future.
In the time of the coronavirus, it is hard to feel in control of anything. However, this is one thing that students have control over: ensuring the well-being and access to resources that future students will need. Students, right now, you have the ability to count you and your roommates as one household on my2020census.gov (Set up a FaceTime call — you probably miss them anyway!) by inputting your address for a completely confidential census count, regardless of your citizenship status, current location or any coronavirus fears that you may have.