Census not so easy as 1-2-3

Courtesy Photo / southernstudies.com
census ethnicities

Courtesy Photo / southernstudies.com census ethnicities

Although the deadline to mail back the 2010 Census takes place today, on April Fool’s Day, the U.S. Census is no laughing matter for national and community officials. Every 10 years, census data is compiled to determine federal funding and congressional districts, as well as to provide a broad “snapshot” of the nation. But some groups feel they are being pushed out of the picture.

Sexuality and the census

The tagline for the 2010 United State census is, “It’s in our hands” – and members of the U.S. LGBT community have decided it is indeed time to take the counting of their population in their own hands.

The census does not include a question that asks individuals if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, so the Queer the Census campaign, a project of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Credo Action, is distributing stickers members of the LGBT community can fill out and attach to the envelope when they mail their census in.

In addition to counting LGBT people, Queer the Census is also counting heterosexual allies to the LGBT community.

“The census tells the story of who we are as a nation, and that includes LGBT people — but only when we participate, and only when we’re fully counted,” said the Queer the Census Web site. “The census, which counts everyone living in the United States every 10 years, provides the data that is used to determine funding and policy priorities at the national and state level. Being counted isn’t just a numbers game, but a question of whether the LGBT community gets access to the resources that support our health, economic well-being, safety and families. The LGBT community must be visible — and that means participating in the census, but it also means being counted fully.”

Last week at an Out ‘N’ About meeting, Amy Simpson, education chair of ONA, presented on Queer the Census, which spurred a discussion about GVSU not considering its own LGBT population.

“I presented this topic at Out ‘N About’ first and foremost because it is a current and pertinent issue,” Simpson said. “It’s something that’s happening right now, and it’s something that Out N About students can take action on in a very tangible way. Other things we speak about are less tangible, and students don’t always feel empowered. This is a way for us to stand up, proud of who we are and demand to be recognized.”

At GVSU, optional questions about ethnicity are included on the application for institutional reporting, as required by the state of Michigan, said Jodi Chycinski, director of Admissions. Questions of LGBT status, however, are not included on the application.

Philip Batty, director of Institutional Analysis, said that no information is gathered on the LGBT population at GVSU and there are no plans to do so in the future.

For more information on Queer the Census, visit to http://www.queerthecensus.org.

Lack of separate Arab ethnicity draws criticism

Although the 2010 Census has announced an effort to be more racially inclusive, some Arab citizens have expressed concern their ethnicity is not being represented.

Currently there are 19 different racial categories on the census form, but Arab is not one of them. Instead, Arabs are considered “White” on the form. Kaifa Alsoofy, president of the GVSU Muslim Student Association, said this leads to inaccurate data.

“I personally think it is a misrepresentation of a large group of people that should be included,” she said. “The Census is supposed to be an accurate measure of all the different races in the United States, but it is not.”

Alsoofy also said not all Arabs identify themselves as Caucasian.

“There is no accurate number of how many Arabs are really in the United States,” she said. “Even though according the Census Bureau we are considered White because there is no category for Arabs, more than likely Arabs would put themselves under the category Asian.”

In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau released data estimating the Arab population in the U.S. at 1.2 million people, or 0.4 percent of the population. The concentration was highest in Michigan, where Arabs made up 1.2 percent of the population. Dearborn, Mich., also had the second-largest Arab population in the country.

The estimates were based on an ancestry question included in the 2000 census. The standards for the classification of federal data on ethnicity were revised in 1997, when the Office of Management and Budget suggested further research to improve data on the Arab population.

“This report contributes to ongoing research about people in the United States who identify as being of Arab ancestry and reflects the Census Bureau’s consultation and collaboration with experts in the Arab-American community,” said Mike Bergman, a public information officer for the Census Bureau, in a press release.

This year’s census did not include any questions about ancestry or countries of origin.

The Census Bureau has said that although citizens who choose to write in their ethnicity as Arab will still be counted as Caucasian on the final counts, it could influence whether or not there is an Arab ethnic category on the 2020 Census. The final decision would be made through a collaboration between the Census Bureau, Congress and focus groups.

Critics object to usage of “Negro”

In addition to the lack of an Arab category in the race section of the census, some critics have also argued that the appearance of a “Negro” option is outdated and racially insensitive. Census officials said the option was included after a series of government studies showed more than 50,000 older blacks identified themselves using the term. In addition, under the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts, the census is mandated to ask questions about race in order to ensure the racial composition of congressional districts are not drawn up in a discriminatory manner.

Students in dorms part of group count

GVSU student Heather DeWitt, along with her classmates Leah Zuber, Melissa Masson, Sarah Heins and Mindy Pearson, was tasked with preparing and mobilizing the Grand Rapids community to participate in the census as part of the Public Relations Student Study of America’s 2010 Bateman Case Study Competition.

DeWitt said while the Census Bureau could have perhaps done a better job of including more minority populations, she feels the potential benefits of the federal funding from the census outweigh the criticisms.

“Students utilize a lot of the services that Grand Rapids provides: roads, health care services (and) educational services,” she said. “A lot of nonprofit organizations receive funding that is getting cut because we are not receiving the recognition we need … A lot of students think that it doesn’t affect them because they live elsewhere.”

Pearson, one of DeWitt’s campaign partners, agreed that filling out the census is important not just for current GVSU students but also future members of the community.

“Even though college students may not be residents of Grand Rapids after they complete college, there will be other college students here who will benefit,” Pearson said. “For me, it’s important to leave a legacy for the students that come through Grand Valley in the next 10 years. As students, we use many of the facilities, such as public transportation, that are funded by money that comes from the census. It’s important to maintain these facilities for the many students who will be in Grand Rapids for the next 10 years.”

DeWitt said some of the students she talked to did not know how the census worked or whether they were required to fill out a census form.

She explained that students living in dorms will be part of a group count, where a census representative receives living center data from the university. Students in apartments and rental homes received their own forms in the mail to fill out with their roommates.

Students wishing to learn more about the census can contact the group via its Facebook page “GR Census 2010” or its Twitter account @grcensus2010.

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