Skip to content

Q&A: UDP welcomes new faculty member Dylan Stevenson

How did you get into your field of study?Dylan Stevenson

My interest in studying the built environment as a distinct subject first came out of my community outreach work during the third year of my undergraduate degree. During these outreach trips, I was given the opportunity to visit high schools on Indian reservations to offer resources and insight into the accessibility of higher education for Native students. Typically, these places were very remote and on one of these trips we were staying in a small mountain town about an hour away from the reservation:, on a drive to the school my classmates and I noticed the stark difference in amenities and resources between the still-rural town we were based in and the reservation itself. I wondered why Native communities weren’t offered the same types of amenities on the reservation- despite being in the same rural context as the town where we were based. It was at this moment I became interested in the field of Urban Planning to understand the underlying causes behind the development –or not—of the built environment within indigenous communities. My primary goal was to figure out how and in what ways, urban planning could contribute to the material and immaterial quality of life for Indigenous communities on their own terms.

What attracted you to the College of Built Environments?

I think one of the greatest assets of CBE is how it serves as a “clearinghouse” for all the allying fields interested in socio-spatial contexts. Namely, I was really attracted to the opportunity to collaborate and learn from experts within these allying fields who all share the goal of building a better future. CEB is unique in its ability to promote interdisciplinary strength with collaboration, and I’m elated to be able to contribute my own perspective and learn from others as we strive to make places more equitable and sustainable.

Please describe your research and what makes it meaningful to you.

My research primarily focuses on the intersection of Indigenous Planning, Environmental Planning, and Historic Preservation. I see urban planning as a culturally-informed and unique way of attributing relational meaning to land divisions that have resulted due to t colonization in the United States. Through this process, there have been several systems that normalize how our society thinks and engages in land relations; these systems predominantly do not view land as a primary actor within these set of relations and has resulted in a slew of environmental issues, most notably climate change. 

I focus on the interdependent relationship between indigenous ways of thinking and land management that not only contribute towards Tribal sovereignty and self-determination but also emphasize the restorative ecological and climactic impact of fulfilling one’s obligations to the land. More specifically, I’m interested in the role of intangible cultural heritage (such as language) in the preservation and adaptation of Indigenous knowledge systems (such as plant and water knowledge) in the present. I believe that through the study and adaptation of lessons learned from indigenous practices, our larger society may be better able to renegotiate its relationship with the land as we address climate change. For my dissertation, I researched how and what underlying cultural values were being reinforced through various water planning-related documents by the United States Federal Government and the State of Oklahoma, and contrasted this research to my experiences participating in water relations on the Cherokee Reservation.

What’s your vision for the impact you want to make through your teaching and research?

Through my teaching and research, my focus is on developing better intercultural competency so that individuals and organizations are better equipped to work with Indigenous people. In part, this requires demystifying some of the inaccurate information we inherit in the United States regarding indigenous people, while also recognizing both the past and ongoing injustices placed upon Native communities. I hope that my research and teaching offer insight into creating and maintaining strong intercultural relationships.

What’s a course that you’re especially excited to teach?

In Winter Quarter of 2023, I taught the UDP program’s Introduction to Indigenous Planning course which is, in some sense, a culmination of my life’s work! As a student, I found that courses on this topic in a formalized format weren’t available, so offering this type of resource for students is really special for me.  I hope the students are able to value this course material as I do, and hopefully, it can inspire some students to pursue indigenous planning further. 

If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?

Never waste your work! I oftentimes hear students worry about ‘wasting’ a quarter on a class they aren’t passionate about or that a project they chose doesn’t seem immediately beneficial. I believe people are constantly learning and growing with life experience, which means you’re always building upon the things you have learned. The important thing to know is how to make the connection between what it is you’ve already done and what it is you want to accomplish. So, whether it’s a term paper you wrote a couple of quarters ago or a class reading, be intentional about using your experiences as a starting point when beginning to take on a new task in life.

What inspires and motivates you?

I think I get really inspired by being surrounded by friends and family who are following their goals and doing good work. It’s very invigorating to see someone be passionate about the things that interest them and inspires me in my own work. I love being a part of a cycle of mutual support, which helps me stay inspired and motivated within my own work.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? 

I hope that students will feel challenged, comfortable, and satisfied taking my classes Some of the topics that I cover in my classes can be really heavy and uncomfortable initially, but I think these uncomfortable moments can provide opportunities for growth. As an instructor, I try to balance serious subject matter with humor to help students ease into difficult conversations. Hopefully, as the term ends, they’ll be equipped to think critically about the beliefs they hold as individuals and are willing to cultivate relationships with others different than themselves.

Please tell us about a book, art piece, person, or otherwise, that has influenced your thinking and approach to your life and/or work.

When I was living in Oklahoma, I would sometimes hear the phrase “be nice to my friend” when someone would be too self-critical. I like that phrase because it implies that we should afford ourselves more generosity than we may normally, and reminds us that there are other people who are invested in seeing that we are cared for. 

When you are not teaching/researching/working, what are you up to?

Usually, during my free time, I like to binge-watch tv shows, play video games, and hang out with friends. I would love to learn how to sew and make clothes;  I have some experience with beadwork and working with leather so developing some sort of tactile skill is really appealing to me. I also love that with creative projects like these, plus you can wear your projects and gift them.