Starting Fall 2018, Essence Hall will give undergraduates the opportunity to experience an on-campus living and learning residential community focused on African-American students.

The new space was created through a partnership between Residence Life & Student Housing at the University of New Mexico, the Black Student Alliance and African American Student Services.

Essence Hall will be composed of 25 rooms on the third floor of Coronado Hall, with a mixture of double and single living spaces. It will be one of 18 interest-specific living learning communities offered at UNM.

Dannelle Kirven, a junior studying communication and journalism and criminology, helped create this initiative.

The idea to create this community began in 2015 after “complaints of black students about insensitive comments they faced while living in different residence halls,” Kirven said.

She said black students did not feel a sense of community in residence halls, because they did not feel welcomed or comfortable.

“They needed an environment where they could truly feel themselves,” Kirven said.

The idea took so long to come together, because people in support of it had to meet with a variety of different people to make it a reality, she said.

African American Student Services Program Specialist Brandi Stone said African American Student Services is “here to support the black students (on) campus, and we are supporting the Black Student Alliance in this initiative, as we are also partnering with Essence Hall already.”

Kirven said she has heard comments that Essence Hall will increase the “gulf between the black students and others” is hurtful and not the intent.

This is a celebration of black culture, which is currently not celebrated, she said.

“It’s an optional space, and you being a black student are not forced to live there,” she said. “Being a very few — almost 700 — as compared to the whole population of the students at the campus, it becomes very much necessary for you to share a space where you can find your culture, your own feelings, your own self. It is just a safer space.”

Stone said African American Student Services is very excited about being a part of any black-student-led initiative, saying it is important for students to have a safe space on campus to feel secure.

Megan Chibanga, the manager at Residence Life & Student Housing, said, “We have a lot of variety of living learning communities here, on Main Campus, and we were approached by the Black Student Alliance and African American Student Services about the possibility of creating a living-learning community for students who identify as black a couple of years ago, but the actual efforts to materialize it were put forth a year ago.”

If needed, the Essence Hall can be expanded easily in the future, Chibanga said.

Tasawar Shah is the news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @tashah_80.