A Science Writing Seminar on Geology and Justice

Jill S. Schneiderman, , Vassar College

I taught my first multidisciplinary "Earth System and Environmental Justice" course in 1997 after winning a National Science Foundation Curriculum Development Grant in order to develop it. In the first iterations of the course (1997, 1998, 2000), I focussed on the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere in order to explore the justice issues that cropped up in these arenas. However, at that time the phrase "environmental justice" was familiar only to a small group of activists and policy makers (following on the heels of the NAACP/UCC 1987 report "Toxic Wastes and Race", the First People of Color Environmental Justice Summit in 1991, and President Clinton's Executive Order on Enviromental justice in 1994). Thus, the idea that different groups of people were disproportionately impacted by environmental risk was foreign to most students. As a result, in the first few years of teaching the course, I spent considerable time not only on the earth science but on philosophical arguments about justice. I found it very useful in those early years to co-teach the course with an ethicist.

In subsequent years I moved to the model of teaching this course as a writing-intensive freshman seminar. As a result, I have been able to integrate more fully into the course feminist scholarship on hegemonic power. My experience shows that helping the students understand theories of structural inequality enables them to organize their understanding of the disproportionate impact of environmental risks on poor people, people of color, women and children. By teaching the course to freshman, I have had the opportunity to prove to them that understanding basic earth science principles is absolutely critical to the project of rectifying environmental injustice. Most recently I taught the course as a writing intensive seminar in Environmental Geology for more advanced students. That syllabus incorporated "contemplative pedagogies." One student in the 1997 version of the course has since gone to earn a Ph.D. in environmental health science; directly attributing her work to that geology and justice course, she uses GIS and remote sensing techniques to discern vulnerabilities to disease-causing agents.

Topics covered in the current version of Geology and Justice include "slow violence" and geologic time; the 2004 Pacific Ocean tsunami; 2005 Hurricane Katrina; mountaintop mining; municipal and hazardous waste disposal; gendered access to water in the Caribbean.

My publications relevant to this subject work include:
  • Schneiderman, J.S., 2012, Awake in the Anthropocene: in Emerman, S.H., Bjørnerud, M., Schneiderman, J.S., and Levy, S.A. eds. Liberation Science: Putting Science to Work for Social and Environmental Justice. Raleigh, North Carolina: Lulu Press 2012.
  • Schneiderman, J.S. and Reddock, R. "Water, Women and Community in Trinidad, West Indies." Natural Resources Forum 28.3 (2004): 179-188.
  • Stewart, M.E., Schneiderman, J.S., and Andrews, S.B., 2001, A GIS Class Exercise to Study Environmental Risk: Journal of Geoscience Education 49.3: 227-234.
  • Schneiderman, J.S. and Sharpe, V.A., 2001, An NSF-Sponsored Curriculum that Moves Students Towards a Feminist Geology: Women's Studies Quarterly XXIX.1&2: 234-243.
  • Schneiderman, J.S. and Sharpe, V.A., 2000, Geology and Environmental Justice: in Schneiderman, J.S., ed., The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet, W.H. Freeman, New York, NY, p. 368-385.
  • Schneiderman, J.S. "The Common Interests of Earth Science, Feminism, and Environmental Justice." National Women's Studies Association Journal 9.3 (1997): 124-137.
  • Schneiderman, J.S. "Curriculum Transformation in the Earth Sciences: Women's Studies and Geology." Transformations—The New Jersey Project Journal 5.1 (1994): 44-56.

Downloadable version of this essay

Writing Intensive Seminar in Earth Science and Environmental Justic (Microsoft Word 34kB Mar15 13)
Schneiderman recent syllabus on EJ (Microsoft Word 105kB Mar15 13)