Environmental Justice

April Baptiste, ,
Colgate University


This course evaluates the beginnings of environmental justice as a concept and examines its development into an emerging field. Students will learn to critically analyze examples of environmental justice cases, develop an understanding of the complex relationships among actors, and understand the social, political, and economic processes that lead to environmental injustices.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Small-group seminar

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites. It is a required course for all environmental studies majors including the topical environmental majors. It can also be used to meet the interdisciplinary course college requirement. Over 95 % the registered students are environmental majors and on rarely there are non-majors in the course. The course is filled each semester that it is offered and it is offered at least twice for the academic year.

Course Content:

This course examines concepts of race, class,rights, and its role in the siting of hazardous waste facilities particularly in the US context. It also examines the historical development and theoretical underpinnings of environmental justice. Students learn how to critically apply the concepts and theory of environmental justice to various case studies such as natural hazards, food, climate change, indigenous populations and the urban context through intensive writing assignments, poster development, online forums, and oral presentations.

Course Goals:

The goal of this course is to provide students with an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues through the environmental justice lens. Students will be able to:
1. Provide a clear description of what is environmental justice
2. Understand and explain the underlying theoretical constructs of environmental justice
3. Critically analyze of how marginalized communities are affected by environmental injustices, providing concrete examples of incidences where these have occurred
4. Present clearly their ideas about environmental justice to an audience

Course Features:

The course has several writing assignments which allow students to assess a selected environmental justice problem. These individual assignments allows students to display their knowledge and critical thinking skills on environmental justice. There is a poster assignment also associated with this course. Students work in pairs on a selected environmental problem which is researched over the semester. Each pair then presents the poster to the class and other invited members, allowing students to clearly relate their research on environmental justice to other non-experts. Finally small group discussions during class periods allow for students to brainstorm and discuss environmental justice concepts and examples with their peers.

Course Philosophy:

This course on environmental justice was developed after a redesigning of the environmental studies program to foster a holistic student who understands the underlying role of inequities in environmental issues. Given the perceived sensitive nature of environmental justice, the course is designed to allow students to be able to openly express concerns about race, class and rights issues. Usually an early class session is used for coalition building which sets the tone for the semester. The group discussions, and online forums provide a space for differing and at times contradictory views to be engaged in an open manner. Movie screenings are used as expose students to difficult topics and to instill discussions as well. As students are at times closed to the idea of race, class, and rights playing a central role in decision-making with respect to environmental problems a variety of strategies is used to teach the concepts of environmental justice.


There are a number of ways in which students are assessed in this course, based on both individual and group assignments.

Individual Work
1. Class Participation is assessed by both in class participation (assessed both in terms of quality and frequency of participation in class discussions) and by online discussion forums.

2. Take home writing assignments: Students are provided with three writing assignments which are involved usually between 8-10 pages per assignment. One of the assignments is a mapping assignment, where students develop flow maps showing the relationships among different stakeholders in an environmental problem explaining the role and relationships and how they lead to environmental injustices.

Group Work
The academic poster is the only group assignment in this course. Students work on their proposal for the entire semester and are assessed both on the quality of the final poster and their presentation, but they are also assessed on the level of involvement they had in the creation of the final poster throughout the semester long process.


References and Notes:

Pellow, D.N. & R.J. Brulle. (2005). Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Please see attached syllabus