By W. Wade DeVinney

For The Diamondback

The director of the United States Census Bureau spoke to students at the University of Maryland on Wednesday about the importance of leveraging their cultures and experiences to succeed in their fields of study.

La Gente, a Latinx student advocacy group on the university’s campus, hosted Robert Santos, the first person of color to serve as a permanent, Senate-confirmed director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

“My message today really was towards the young growing minds to not allow their perceptions of themselves to interfere with their intellectual growth,” Santos said. “Their culture, their life experiences, their values, to use that in addition to the wonderful training that folks are going to get in a university to make them even better.”

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Junior public policy major and La Gente treasurer Yonathan González Villatoro said he hoped that the attendees of the speech came away with a higher sense of importance for census representation.

The census results impact the representation in the electoral college and the allocation of congressional seats every 10 years, which is why counting all communities is especially important, González Villatoro said.

“It’s really important that all communities are counted equally,” he said. “It’s really important for our audience to be able to take inspiration [from Santos] and know that they have a voice at the highest levels of the census.”

Santos said he hoped more researchers and economists would take advantage of the data the census offers in order to help underrepresented communities.

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Santos said the data one attendee collected, which found that nearly half of the residents of the attendee’s town were Latinx, could be used to advocate for more representation in that town’s local government.

“What keeps me up at night is that I know that there is a whole ocean of people in communities who could benefit from the data that we have,” Santos said. “We’re making it easier and easier to use … and we need to find a way to actually understand the values of data and to use it.”

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Public policy masters student and La Gente co-president Diana Carrillo, said the event with Santos was largely about getting people involved in their communities.

“We put this event together in hope to bring a lot of awareness on the importance of civic engagement with the Latinx community,” Carrillo said.

Jason Nuñez, the Maryland General Assembly’s chief of staff and moderator for the event, said he hopes to see the state legislature use census data more when proposing legislation.

“When we draft a bill in the General Assembly, we draft the bill using certain data points, but we rarely use the census,” Nuñez said. “Now when we start debating with people across the aisle, we need to provide evidence, which the majority of the time is based on witnesses testifying.”