Student group continues census education amid COVID-19 pandemic

First published in the Daily Emerald on March 30th, 2020.

Eugene Counts, which works to promote the 2020 Census in Eugene, continues to encourage University of Oregon students to reply to the Census even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Eugene Counts is a group of five public relations students from the UO School of Journalism and Communication who are chosen each year to design a full public relations campaign for the Public Relations Student Society of America’s national Bateman Case Study Competition, said Carrissa Pahl, a senior at UO and a member of Eugene Counts. 

For the 2020 Bateman Competition, PRSSA partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to help encourage under-counted communities and on-and-off campus students to participate in the 2020 Census, said Chase Ford, another UO senior who is a member of Eugene Counts. 

“We hope that [the students] understand the importance of the role they play in government and government activities,” Ford said. “Like with the Census, it’s really important that they respond and they respond in the right place: their college address.” 

Ford said that the Census helps inform the distribution of billions in federal funding that support community services like public works projects and programs such as the Pell Grant. 

“The most important thing is that students understand they matter, that this is more than just a population count,” Ford said. “Even if they don’t see Eugene as their long-term home, the Census is only taken every 10 years. So the students that are here are going to count for the next students to come and the funding for the community over the next ten years.” 

Eugene Counts has taken to promoting its campaign on social media after the university announced that spring term classes would be taught remotely.

“Instagram is how we are trying to get to people because we can’t really go anywhere or drop things off,” said Pahl. “We had a lot of stuff dropped off at daycares and the Eugene Science Museum, and we can’t pick those up now because nobody can go anywhere.” 

Pahl said Eugene Counts held a Q&A over Instagram to answer students’ questions about the 2020 Census. 

In response to the coronavirus situation, the Census Bureau released a statement about modifying its operations to ensure that college students are counted. According to the press release, “In general, students in colleges and universities temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 virus will still be counted as part of this process.” 

College students living in on-campus housing are counted through their university as part of the Census Bureau’s Group Quarters Operation, according to the press release. 

The University of Oregon is responsible for counting all students who reside in university-owned housing, which includes residence halls, university-owned apartments, sororities and fraternities, Ford said. 

Even if students are at home on April 1 — Census Day — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they should be counted where they would have resided on April 1, the press release stated. 

In response to its Q&A, Eugene Counts received a number of messages from concerned students who were unsure of how to fill out the Census after leaving campus due to the coronavirus situation, according to Pahl. 

There are three ways to complete the questionnaire, Ford said: online, by mail or by phone. 

“We want to encourage students to use the online option and [let them] know that it’s there,” Ford said. “We want them to be able to participate in the Census, even if they aren’t home or in Eugene.”