Advocates work to close census gap

Some U students are promoting participation in the 2010 U.S. Census.
By
  • Alex Holmquist
March 31, 2010

A group of University of Minnesota students and local organizations are working to overcome language and cultural barriers so that residents of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood are counted in this year’s census.
Three University graduate students have partnered with organizations from the predominantly Somali neighborhood to encourage residents to fill out their census forms.
These efforts are part of the Cedar-Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement, a student-led initiative to strengthen partnerships between the University and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Anna Swanson Bates, Megan Evans and Adam Faitek, all second-year graduate students at the University, created the Cedar-Riverside census project as part of a year-long capstone course offered by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
The group worked with members from the Somali American Education Program, a nonprofit organization that provides educational opportunities to local adults.
Together they recruited community members from Cedar-Riverside to help them fill out their forms and translate information about the census for non-English speaking residents.
Mohamed Abdullahi, director of SAEP, said they also enlisted the help of community elders to spread their message through word of mouth.
“We all participated as a community,” Abdullahi said. “We don’t want people undercounted in our area.”
During the past few months, the group has raised nearly $9,000 to put toward their efforts and have spent hundreds of hours in the community to address residents’ concerns about filling out their census forms.
For every 100 people who are not counted, it is estimated that $1 million in federal funding for Minneapolis programs will be lost over the next decade.
“This is an issue that affects everyone,” Faitek said.
The students said they found many immigrant residents in the community were concerned about releasing personal data and were unaware that their information is kept confidential for 72 years.
“There is a general mistrust of government,” Swanson Bates said. “Some are coming from a very unstable country.”
The students have hosted workshops in the Cedar-Riverside community to help residents fill out their forms and have translators on hand to assist residents who don’t speak English.
The group is hosting an outreach event Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Brian Coyle Center and the McKnight and Chase buildings at Riverside Plaza.
“It’s kind of a last call for people who haven’t filled out a form yet,” Evans said.
The students said they feel their efforts within in the Cedar-Riverside community have been successful and have made many residents less hesitant about filling out census forms.
“We bridged a lot of the divide,” Faitek said.
The students said they are also grateful for the help from local organizations like SAEP, the West Bank Community Coalition and the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
“The community has just as much knowledge to share with us as we do with them,” Swanson Bates said.

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