BMCC Students Encourage New Yorkers to Participate in the 2020 Census

BMCC students John Martinez, Thierno Diallo and Juanlin Li.

March 5, 2020

Twelve Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) students will spend part of their spring semester working to make sure New Yorkers understand why it is critical for everyone to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.

The students were selected to join the CUNY Census Corps, a team of 270 students from across the CUNY system. As members of the CUNY Census Corps, the students will engage, educate and mobilize New Yorkers to participate in the decennial U.S. Census. Over 70 percent of the students speak at least one language in addition to English.

A full and accurate count of all New Yorkers is crucial to securing the city and state’s fair share of more than $650 billion in available federal funds for schools, pell grants, hospitals, food stamps and numerous other programs and infrastructure projects. The census also determines how many members of congress the state sends to the U.S. House of Representatives. The census also informs business decisions, such as local company expansions.

In the 2010 census, New York City’s response rate was less than 62 percent which compares to the national average of 76 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result, New York lost two seats in Congress.

Participation in the U.S. Census is mandatory for all U.S. residents. An accurate count of residents in all 50 states, District of Columbia and five U.S. territories is mandated by the constitution. The census has been conducted every ten years since 1790. The 2020 Census marks the first time an individual can respond to the census online, by phone or by mail. Answers to the census are used to produce statistics. All information is kept anonymous.

Mobilizing the BMCC community

Three of the BMCC CUNY Census Corps students, Liberal Arts major John Martinez, Bilingual Childhood Education major Juanlin Li and Computer Information Systems major Thierno Diallo will be working on the BMCC campus to educate and energize their fellow students.

“We are thrilled to have three of our students participating in the CUNY Census Corps right here on the BMCC campus,” said Doug Israel, BMCC’s director of government and community relations. “Their primary role is to educate their fellow students about the importance of the census and encourage them to participate in this incredibly important survey.”

Israel said that over the course of the next three months, the students will be making presentations in classrooms, speaking to students one-on-one in the hallways, and devising creative ways to get student’s attention to ensure they understand how much is at stake for their communities.

He said in addition to educating students on exactly what the census is, one of the main challenges the Census Corps students will face is overcoming general trepidation many people have about sharing their personal information.

A 2019 Census Bureau survey found that just 45 percent of New Yorkers fully understood the critical role census data plays in determining the allocation of federal funding and political representation.  It is against the law for the Census Bureau to publicly release responses that could in any way identify an individual or anyone in their household.

“I think once students realize how much federal money is at stake for New York, and how this may impact their families and the services they rely on like public transportation and health care, they will make the effort to participate,” said Israel.

Thierno Diallo grew up in Senegal and came to the United States in 2016. Before enrolling at BMCC, he attended English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses. Working with the census would be an opportunity for him to improve his communication skills and a chance to reach out and encourage community members to advocate for themselves.

“If we are under-counted here in New York, a lot of federal money will be allocated to other states,” said Diallo, who plans to do Optional Practical Training for a year before transferring to a four-year college and majoring in data science.

He said he and the other students will be conducting class presentations, tabling in the main lobby at 199 Chambers Street and visiting various clubs.

Juan Li was born and raised in China and her long-term goal is to earn a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in math. Initially, she was motivated to apply for the Census Corps because she needed a job.

“Then I realized how important the census is to all of us,” said Li.

John Martinez, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who is now a liberal arts major at BMCC grew up in Harlem.

“In the 2010 census, New York was undercounted, and we lost seats in the House of Representatives along with millions of dollars,” said Martinez. “If everyone participates in the census, we can help make sure we have adequate funding for the services and other things that affect our daily lives.”

Other BMCC students participating through community organizations in the city include: James Mensah,  Joenny Montensio, Dominque Royer, Gene Watt, Gloria Andrea Figueroa Orerego, James Hill, Peiwen Kuang and Redwan Ahmed

For more information about ways to participate, visit the 2020 U.S. Census website,


  • An accurate count ensures that New York City receives its fair share of federal funding
  • The census determines how many representatives New York sends to Congress
  • All information on the census is kept anonymous

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