Getting Counted: The Harvard Community, COVID-19, and the 2020 Census

March 25, 2020
Getting Counted: The Harvard Community, COVID-19, and the 2020 Census

2020 is an important year for our democracy in many ways. Though news and conversation are dominated by the presidential election, equally critical civic activities such as the decennial census are underway.

It’s important for all of us to be counted in the census, and be counted in the right place. The current situation is shedding light on the vital services we receive from our government, including hospital and emergency care. A complete count of the Harvard community is critical to secure the public funding and services needed to support the thousands of people who call Harvard University their home.

As Harvard has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic many things have changed on campus, but how the Harvard community should respond to the census has not.

Distance Learning and Remote Work

As new information around the coronavirus emerged in early March, universities like Harvard grappled with questions around how to best protect students, staff, and faculty from the outbreak. On March 10th, Harvard University President Bacow announced classes would meet online and asked college students not to return to campus after spring break. In an effort to increase social distancing, these orders to vacate undergraduate on-campus housing prompted many students to return home or find other living arrangements off-campus. Shortly after, staff, and faculty were instructed to work from home and move their operations online. While many Harvard community members will weather the pandemic from a location different from where they typically reside during the school year, Harvard is still their home and the census should reflect that.

Be Counted: Students Living on Campus

Students living in school-owned housing will be counted by school administrators as part of the Group Quarters Operation. The Group Quarters Operations requires the owners or management of group housing to submit the census response on behalf of its tenants. College-owned dwellings such as dorms, Greek houses, and apartments are counted by their schools. Resident requirements from the Census Bureau mandate individuals to be counted in places where they live and sleep most of the time.

For Harvard University, this means all students living in freshman and upper-level student Harvard housing and Harvard graduate housing will be counted and reported to the census by the school. Students who moved out of Harvard housing due to the coronavirus-mandated evacuation should still be counted as living on campus, regardless of where they reside on April 1. Students who recently moved back home with their parents or into other housing arrangements should not be counted under their new address; instead, they will be counted by the school in accordance with a Harvard administrator’s email dated March 19th.

Be Counted: Students and Other Harvard Community Members Living Off-Campus

As Harvard University and other institutions of higher education move to distance learning, many students and community members living off-campus in Cambridge might have moved home or to another location during the COVID-19 pandemic. This also includes staff, fellows, and faculty. It is critical that these individuals respond to the census using their regular address, where they resided before the pandemic. Individuals can respond to the census online, by phone, or by mail.

Starting March 12, the Census Bureau mailed an invitation to participate in the census to every household in the country. If any Harvard community member moved before receiving this census invitation, they can still respond by visiting the Census Bureau’s website. It is important that when responding, people in this category provide information for all people living in their household, including roommates. Official Census Bureau guidance urges a response from every household and clarifies that any duplicate names will be removed by their system.

Help Others Be Counted

As the Census Bureau continues to adjust plans around COVID-19, they urge the timely completion of the census to eliminate the need for follow-up by census takers. Once we are counted, it is incumbent on all of us to help educate our community on the importance of the census and ways to complete it, particularly online.

Please visit the Harvard Votes Challenge website for Harvard-related census updates, events, and news at The Harvard Votes Challenge is a nonpartisan initiative that strives to build a civic culture at Harvard University by reaching full participation in voting and the census.

For up-to-date information on the census, visit