By Cheryl Staats, Research Associate,

As 2009 speeds to a close, the U.S. Census Bureau is gearing up for its constitutionally-mandated decennial count of everyone living in the United States. Although the Census Bureau takes extraordinary care to ensure that all people are counted (even staging dress rehearsals), this remarkably complex task historically results in an undercount of marginalized populations. Contributing to the undercount are undocumented immigrants who often are reticent to participate, erroneously fearing that personal information disclosed on census forms may lead to deportation or other adverse legal ramifications. Awareness of undercounts has often prompted census officials to statistically modify previous counts, thus offering adjusted data.

With Census Bureau Director Robert Groves recently claiming that “there’ll be no adjustment of this census,” the agency’s 2010 outreach includes some novel tactics to raise awareness of the census and allay respondents’ fears. To reach Latinos, the Census Bureau has teamed up with the producers of Más Sabe el Diablo (“The Devil Knows Best”), a telenovela (soap opera) on the Telemundo network, to create a storyline involving a character who applies to work for the U.S. Census Bureau. Factual information meant to the reassure the largely Spanish-speaking audience (such as census information being estrictamente confidencial – “strictly confidential”) is communicated through the character Perla Beltrán, who otherwise is intertwined in the genre’s typical fictional sagas. Aurelio Valcarel, an executive producer at Telemundo, asserted, “we’re trying to fight the fear” by including the census-focused plot.

With census data used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal and state funds each year, to influence what community services are offered, and to apportion congressional seats to states, innovative tactics that educate using creative mediums and make respondents less leery about being counted should be applauded. Ultimately, attaining an accurate count is vital to maintaining equitable congressional representation, a hallmark of our nation’s democracy. In the words of the national campaign: Ya es hora. ¡Hágase Contar! – “It’s Time. Make Yourself Count!”

Cheryl joined the staff of the Kirwan Institute in October of 2007. Much of her current work focuses on implicit racial/ethnic bias. She is the author of the State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, an extensive document that synthesizes a broad range of scholarly literature on how unconscious racial associations influence human decision-making and outcomes. The Implicit Bias Review highlights how cognitive forces that shape individual behavior without our awareness can contribute to societal inequities. Cheryl has also worked on a range of other projects, including alliance-building, intergroup relations, and racial profiling. She was a member of the research team that created Intergroup Resources, an online resource center that strengthens intergroup relations for social justice by sharing curricular materials, tools, and insights designed to facilitate bridge building across lines of difference. Cheryl is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Spanish. She completed a Masters of Arts degree in 2007 in the OSU Department of Sociology.