Jordan Rodriguez admits he didn’t know much about censuses before the school year started last September.
“I guess I did know a little, it’s a population count,” Rodriguez jokes. “But now, I’m learning about how much it determines the economic benefit or infrastructure in our community, as well as how many representatives we have in the House of Representatives. It’s really opened my eyes to how important it is.”
Rodriguez, a Montgomery College theater major, is one of 20 student ambassadors hired to disseminate information about the upcoming census. These activities included one-on-one conversations with peers and other students, collegewide fairs, and other events that underscored the importance of the census—and its impact on local issues.
While people around the country received mail in March on how to fill out the census, the College’s community engagement team and members of the Montgomery College Complete Count Committee have been working tirelessly for months to get as many people as possible to participate in the process. They started the hiring process for student ambassadors in November 2019 and trained them in early February. Since then, the ambassadors have provided essential support to faculty and staff in the census outreach effort.
The Greater Washington Community Foundation awarded a $15,000 grant for this effort through its 2020 Count DMV In Census Project, which has made it possible to hire the student ambassadors, hold a faculty institute in January, and plan for now-virtual Census Carnivals.
Visit the Census 2020 website to complete the form
Rodriguez and his peers say the people they talk to express apprehension about filling out the census because they fear repercussions based on their legal status. Others have reservations about giving up private information. “It’s a legitimate question, especially in the political climate,” Rodriguez said. “It is also beneficial and comforting to know that that question is not on this census. It’s more about whether you are a human living in a house.”
There are a lot of benefits, and once [people] acknowledge them, they are more than willing to help, willing to spread the word, and fill out the form
One of Rodriguez’s fellow ambassadors, second-semester MC student, Leenchoo Chawaka, discovered that many people who are not citizens or permanent residents thought they could not fill out census. “Once people are informed about the cause, they are more motivated. “There are a lot of benefits,” Chawaka said, “and once [people] acknowledge them, they are more than willing to help, willing to spread the word, and fill out the form.”
In addition to hiring student ambassadors, the committee trained faculty to embed census lessons into their curricula, provided videos and discussion materials for them, and led department-specific trainings. They also hosted a meeting of Ethiopian community leaders to discuss how to promote the census with Amharic speakers.
March was to be a busy month as April 1 is Census Day across the country. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 spread across local and global communities, all College events and most government offices and businesses in the state have temporarily closed or suspended all in-person activities. This curtailed the efforts of the census ambassadors, who were working an average of six hours per week at $13 dollars per hour. The student ambassadors continue to promote the importance of the census on social media and through Facebook Live FAQs in English and Spanish. The committee also hosted another Facebook Live event in Amharic.
Nik Sushka, Rockville Campus service-learning coordinator and member of the Montgomery College Complete Count Committee, praised the work of the student ambassadors. “They all share the mission of wanting to make a difference on campus and in the communities that they’re from,” she said. “[They are] a very diverse, interesting group of students by age and background.”
For more information, visit MC’s census 2020 website.