Dorms for Diné

Officials tout low-cost apartments for UNM Navajo students

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
The Navajo Nation flag hangs on the wall in the common space on the sixth floor of the UNM Rainforest residence hall in Albuquerque.


Janalee Livingston is a senior at the University of New Mexico studying chemistry with the hopes of one day becoming a pharmacist.

Livingston isn’t the only one from her family at UNM.

“I have four siblings at UNM here with me,” she said. “We had scholarships to pay for tuition and books but it was so difficult to find housing.”

Livingston is the eldest of her siblings and was the first to go to UNM.

“I was scared,” she said. “I was lonely. I was homesick and them providing this opportunity to meet other Natives within your community and your (clan) relatives it provides a sense of home.”

This is why she and her siblings were so grateful that the Navajo Nation has invested in providing low-cost housing for 118 Navajo students in the Lobo Rainforest Facility located in the Innovation District near downtown Albuquerque.

The rooms cost the tribe $1,457,300 and the agreement will last until July 31, 2021.

Livingston and her siblings were able to see the dorms they might possibly be able to stay in during an event by Lobo Rainforest to welcome Navajo students to the building on Jan. 12 in Albuquerque. In attendance were UNM and Navajo Nation officials.

Although Navajo Nation officials touted the housing as free, it is not.

According to UNM’s Navajo Nation Student Housing website, students will have to pay a “cost sharing fee” of $935 per each semester.

Antonio Ramirez, senior public information officer for the Navajo Nation president’s office, said this fee is because they don’t want the no-cost housing to affect students’ financial aid.

“The reason housing isn’t free is because that would impact students’ financial aid and end up costing them more,” Ramirez said in a text message.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a need-based college financial aid provided by the federal government and many factors go into determining how much a student should receive in aid including housing situations.

So the Navajo Nation didn’t want to provide free housing and opted for low-cost housing instead.

Dorm rooms in the Lobo Rainforest normally cost $650 per month, which the tribe will pay for.

The dorm is apartment style with each occupant having their own bathroom and bedroom. There is a shared common space with a living room and kitchen.

The Lobo Rainforest was designed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, said Joshua Vasquez, a residence hall advisor.

“The goal is to bring something new to Albuquerque that hasn’t been seen before,” Vasquez said. “This offers a new environment that’s very nurturing for students. So they don’t have to be just thrust out into the world.”

The Rainforest offers seminars, opportunities for mentorship, internship fairs and student business pitch competitions.

“I think this is definitely going to positively impact (students),” Livingston said. “This is going to help, especially, Native students have that opportunity and experience those things. That way they can come home with that experience.”

Livingston is also happy to have two floors of other Navajo students who can lend her and her siblings encouragement when they need it. This type of community is hard to create at UNM where there is a low population of Native American students.

UNM-Main had only 1,369 Native American students attending last fall semester, according to the Fall 2017 Official Enrollment Report. The university has a total of 26,278 students in that semester. This means Native American students only make up five percent of the school’s population.

“I feel like in my chemistry classes I’m the only Native student and I’m the only Navajo student as well,” Livingston said. “So you always feel like you have to put up this guard – everywhere.”

This type of environment will hopefully be replicated at other universities and colleges, said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

Other higher education institutions in the works right now are Fort Lewis College, Arizona State University, San Juan College and Northern Arizona University.

“I know our students are dreamers,” said Begaye. “They have great minds to think of new things that have never been thought of.”

This is why the Navajo Nation is investing money in Navajo college students. Begaye hopes they bring what they learn back home to the Navajo Nation.

“Navajos have also had this ability to make things, to create things – look at our sand paintings, look at our sculptures,” Begaye said.

“You see these incredible, elaborate sculptures and jewelry. To bring that into the scientific world, I just can’t wait to see all the new inventions that our students will come up with.”

Right now, UNM is accepting applications in the UNM housing portal available with your NetID. Just select Lobo Rainforest and “indicate on the application that you are a Navajo student wishing to be placed in Navajo Nation Student Housing,” according to the website.

They are also requesting that students include their census number in the application.

Once completed the Navajo Nation will verify the student’s status with the tribe and notify students if they have been selected.

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Categories: Education

About Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association's 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico - Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah