Las Vegas, NM – A new program at New Mexico Highlands will use a community-based approach to help Native American students complete their college degrees.
The Community Center for Indigeneity officially opened its doors Aug. 17 in Highlands’ Melody Residence Hall and will host presentations and workshops to help students adapt to college life.
About half of Native American college students drop out during their first year, according to national statistics. The center’s organizers say they hope freshmen from all backgrounds will use the space to form deeper bonds with each other and the university.
“If students feel isolated, they’re more likely to leave college,” said Julia Geffroy, Highlands’ Native American Center coordinator who helped organize the center. “It’s important to make that human contact.”
Geffroy said campus services, such as the Writing Center, Academic Support and tutoring services will come to the center to work directly with students.
“A lot of our students are the first in their family to attend college or far from home,” Geffroy said. “The center allows them to create their own community and realize they have more similarities than they might think.”
Rebecca Moore, an associate professor in Highlands’ Facundo Valdez School of Social Work and director of the university’s Peoples Center for Indigenous Knowledges, said opening the Community Center for Indigeneity is a historic occasion for the university.
“We’re the fifth university in the Southwest to have such a center,” Moore said. “When conceptualizing it, I was thinking about what we can do to make all students welcome. We felt by taking services to students, they will eventually feel comfortable enough to access them on their own.”
Moore said while the center is focused on positively impacting the graduation rate for Native American students, the center, a collaboration between Highlands Native American Center, Peoples Center for Indigenous Knowledges, Department of Housing and Student Conduct and Native American/Hispano Cultural Studies program, is open to all students.
“When we talk diversity on our campus, it’s not just the color of our skin,” Moore said. “It’s also about our believe systems and our thoughts. We’ve got these multiple facets of who we are.
“It’s great to celebrate and acknowledge diversity, but there also needs to be a conversation about equity and inclusion. When a person is invited to dance that’s diversity, when a person is asked to dance, that’s equity and inclusion. That’s how you would look at diversity on this very rich campus.”
For more information about the Community Center for Indigeneity, contact Rebecca Moore at 505-426-2053 or Julia Geffroy at 505-426-2049.