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COSI talk: Connecting stories to the impact of the Census

On January 30th, a COSI event regarding the Census featured Community Organizer Sameth Mell. It took place in the Seattle Central library in Room A at approximately 12 PM. This discussion concentrated on the upcoming Census and how important a role it plays in policy decisions and the drawing of legislative districts. It will also determine where schools, hospitals, and roads are built and how government resources will be distributed. Mell started off the discussion by engaging the students and faculty present with the background of the Census. Questions about the purpose of the Census and the details of its accessibility were brought up. In addition, Mell emphasizes how data from the Census profoundly shapes the future of our community. 

This discussion prompted participants to ask questions they had about the Census and details about the process of how it’s run. Nonprofits, Mell explained, often serve communities of color, low-income households, immigrants, and youth, known as hard-to-count communities, and have reliable relationships with its members. Your nonprofit can help get out the count in 2020 by being proactive and reactive.

Mell clarified that the Census is open to all people residing in the United States, including international students. It was surprising to hear that the Census is only comprised of 10 questions and simple ones at that, which we learned when Mell passed out an example questionnaire. The questionnaire included questions ranging from the number of people in the household, how they’re related to each other, their race, what language they speak, etc. 

The attendees unanimously agreed that when encouraging people to fill out the Census, they should add in the detail that there are only a few simple questions they need to answer. They also voiced their outlook that the topic of the Census should be made clear. It was brought up that there is a challenge on what would influence people fill the Census out. Topics about the major barriers in place when accessing the Census were brought up. It was made clear that there needed to be a more robust way to reach folks. Potential solutions, such as using social media to reach out to the youth, were put forth. Moreover, it was suggested that if the Seattle Central students were interested in volunteering to spread awareness about the Census, they were welcome. Furthermore, Mell emphasized that the Census is working to reach out to more people.

The topic of redistricting, about whether or not it applied only to federal representation or local representation, was broached. Mell asserted that it was a good question and that they’d get back to us on that. Redistricting means that they change how big or small your district is and how many representatives you get in the United States congress. 

Concerns about the protection of the respondents’ information were mentioned by one of the attendees. Mell elucidated that federal law establishes confidentiality protections applicable to individual census responses. The Census Bureau is only allowed to share census data at the community or neighborhood level. 

An attendee shared their experience saying that in 2010 (which was when they’d been residing in a student dormitory) they hadn’t received a Census. A reasoning that it may have been delivered to their parents’ house was provided by the rest of the participants. 

The Capitol Hill neighborhood was targeted regarding how the advertising for the Census is about getting a job or volunteering for it, rather than promoting the participation in it. 

At the closing of the talk, attendees shared insights and suggestions for spreading awareness of the Census and how it can impact our communities. 

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