On campus and off, Dinée Dorame ’15 encourages college for Native students
As an assistant director of undergraduate admissions and Native outreach and recruitment coordinator, Dinée Dorame ’15 travels far and wide to inform high school students about Yale and its offerings.
For the past two summers, she has also spent her time guiding and supporting Native students through their college search and application process — to wherever that journey may take them.
Dorame — a member of the Navajo Nation and Tábaahá (Edge of Water clan) born for Naakaii Dine’é (Mexican people clan) — spent nearly three weeks this summer working with College Horizons, a nonprofit organization that provides college admissions workshops to American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian high school juniors and seniors from across the nation. Yale is among the approximately 45 U.S. institutions of higher education that partner with College Horizons to encourage and facilitate the education of Native American young people, who are an underrepresented group on college campuses nationwide.
The program, led by admissions officers, high school counselors, American Indian educators, and others, serves about 200 students in two separate sessions. Each week-and-a-half-long session is hosted by a partner college; this year one session was held at Princeton University and another at Whitman College in Washington state.
For Dorame, taking part in College Horizons feels a bit like a homecoming, as she participated in the program when it was hosted by Yale in 2009. At the time, she was a high school student at Albuquerque High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I really love going back,” says Dorame. “College Horizons changed my life, and it is the reason I’ve become an admissions officer. It’s also why I chose to come to Yale.”
In the College Horizons program, Dorame joined several other counselors to provide guidance and support to a group of about 10 students as they selected their colleges, filled out the Common Application, wrote essays, and learned about financial aid.
“The one-on-one instruction the high school students receive is unique,” Dorame says. “It is much more than college advice. College Horizons also focuses on identity development. A lot of high school students struggle to reflect or write about themselves, so we help them find their own voice so they can fill out college applications and know they are being true to themselves. These are all bright students; we just hope to empower them and help them put the pieces together.”
When Dorame took part in the program as a high school student, it was the first time she had visited a college outside of the Four Corners region of the United States and the first time she was away from her family. When leading College Horizons sessions, she shares personal stories about her own college journey, recalling her fears, uncertainties, and concerns.
“College Horizons becomes a kind of unique family in the sense that the adult counselors — whether Native or not — allow the students into our hearts. I share my experiences as a Native student because it can be helpful for students to hear from someone who has gone through the process.”
Carmen Lopez, executive director of College Horizons, says of Dorame: “As an educator, it is tremendous when your student becomes your colleague, and I am incredibly proud to work alongside Dinée in higher education. … When 80% of the college counselors are white and when 90% of teachers/administrators in K-12 working with Native students are non-Native, it is incredibly important to have indigenous educators like Dinée in the college admission space. Her college story allows Native high school students to relate to her and to see themselves in college.”
Native American students face particular obstacles to higher education, according to College Horizons, which notes on its website that the high school graduation rate for Native Americans is 51%, and that only about 5% of high school graduates go on directly to four-year colleges. Of those, only 10% graduate in four years. Only half of American Indians living on reservations are as likely as their white counterparts to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
“With Native students, the roadblocks to college are wrapped up in so many other things,” Dorame says. “You can’t discuss the college access gap without also discussing the systemic oppression and inequalities Native people are facing, whether it’s access to healthcare, education, or employment opportunities. You have to take it back to all the broken treaties in the Unites States. Yale occupies the homelands of the Quinnipiac people, and these institutions of higher learning are certainly spaces that Native students have a right to access.
“In the past, Native children were forced to go to boarding school against their will, where they had their cultures and languages stripped away,” she continues. “Many Native students are coming from communities that struggle with substance abuse, mental health issues, and depression, and a lot of these issues can be traced to historical trauma. We talk about these tough histories and narratives in College Horizons, but also reflect on the resilience of our ancestors and ourselves.” She notes that many College Horizons participants are the first in their family to attend college.
One of the greatest rewards of working with College Horizons, she says, is seeing the resilience and strength of the young participants.
“No matter where they are coming from, their families sacrificed a lot for them to be there, whether in the present or by their elders generations ago,” explains Dorame. “We have a quote we encourage the students to use during the program — that ‘we are all our ancestors' wildest dreams.’”
While a student at Yale, Dorame majored in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She served as president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, was a freshman liaison for the Native American Cultural Center (NACC), and co-founded Blue Feather Powwow Drum Group, for which she sang and fancy-shawl danced. She also worked as a student recruitment coordinator in the Admissions Office.
Her student job in admissions, coupled with a summer experience as a 2014 Native American Congressional Intern (through the Udall Foundation) in the U.S. Department of Education’s White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, helped steer her to a career in higher education.
In the Admissions Office, Dorame is responsible for a large portion of the Rocky Mountain region. As the Native outreach and recruitment coordinator (she is believed to be the first Native woman in that post), she has been working to establish relationships with high schools and educators on reservations and in Native communities. In October, she will travel to eight reservations to meet with Native high school students and talk about Yale, where the undergraduate Native population has more than doubled since Dorame was a student. There are now more than 100 undergraduates who identify as Indigenous.
“For a Native student, going to a place like Yale can be challenging,” she acknowledges. “I experienced some culture shock, and some academic shock. But I am passionate about bringing other perspectives and diverse students to Yale to make sure we have a healthy community and one that acknowledges Native history and presence.
“For Native people, our community is what grounds us, and the reason I chose to come here was because Yale offered that community,” she adds. “We are lucky to have wonderful leaders and advisers, and momentum is growing.” She credits Kelly Fayard, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the NACC, and Kapi’olani Laronal, assistant director of the NACC, for some of that momentum.
A first-year adviser to students in Ezra Stiles College, where she is a fellow, Dorame is currently involved in the Association of Yale Alumni’s shared interest group Native American Yale Alumni. She said she is eagerly looking forward to the Henry Roe Cloud Conference that will take place on campus in November in celebration of Native students and scholarship at Yale. The event honors Henry Roe Cloud, a Winnebago alumnus who graduated from Yale College in 1910 and became a prominent educator and national advocate for Native American people. Held every three years, this year’s conference will revitalize the Yale tradition of a powwow, which hasn’t taken place on the campus in about a decade. (For details, see the NACC website.)
“It will be a beautiful time to be on campus,” says Dorame.
“In College Horizons, we help students identify a college campus where they can be happy,” she adds. “That’s what is most important. But in my travels for admissions, I always hope to get across that Yale is a place where Native students can grow and learn and celebrate their history, and where they can find a very supportive community.”