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Cultures, Communities and Design

The Black Panthers, Rat Park, and Opioid Addiction – A Rural Community-Based Pedagogy
L. Shenefelt
8:00 am - 10:00 am


The Black Panthers, Rat Park, and Opioid Addiction – A Rural Community-Based Pedagogy. Rural communities in the American Great Plains struggle with an opioid overdose epidemic. This epidemic is unique, and a solution that defines architecture as a building is blind to a history of community activists and rat experiments that argue for a different response from architecture and the built environment. At best, the knee-jerk solution has been to provide use disorder clinics safely situated on the outskirts of towns. While Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander’s 1970’s Rat Park experiment has been praised and questioned over the past fifty years, it clearly implicates the built environment’s role in addiction. It recognizes the importance of social interaction in countering the desire to self-medicate. The Black Panther Party of the 1960s also recognized health as a community responsibility. It famously opened free medical clinics and sickle cell disease testing centers, in addition to the first drug rehabilitation centers in the US using acupuncture. But what can architectural solutions to the current opioid epidemic learn from these prior approaches? Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discover that a successful community-based approach to substance addiction and dependence relies on community engagement and foregoes traditional notions of architecture as an isolated built entity. Building upon Alexander’s research and the Black Panthers’ engagement, an argument will be made for a disparate architectural pedagogy that appropriates underused community spaces to engage the community in response to an epidemic.


Lloyd Shenefelt teaches in the areas of beginning design education, design studios, and health + design for rural and remote populations. Prior to joining the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Architecture, Shenefelt taught architectural design studios at Auburn University, and interior design studios at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and Georgia State University. Shenefelt has practiced architecture for over 18 years and his work has been recognized with awards and publication. Shenefelt practiced architecture with Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects for over nine years where he was a Senior Project Manager and Designer. In collaboration with Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, projects he participated with have won numerous awards, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Awards, and been published in Architect Magazine and Log. Shenefelt was also a founding principal of DSNWRK in Atlanta, GA. Shenefelt’s research and creative work focuses on beginning design pedagogy, innovative student experiential learning, and addressing rural health disparity through community-engaged teaching and learning.