Teaching Environmental Inequality: Class research project

This is the fourth post in a series about the Environmental Inequality class I finished teaching in December. The first post shared the syllabus and class project, the second described how I’ve used the documentary Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, and the third described the first of two field trips we took – a boat tour of the Anacostia River. This post describes our class research project, undertaken in collaboration with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Empower DC, and ANC 6D commissioner Rhonda Hamilton. Here is the project overview from the course syllabus:

This semester we will work on a collaborative research project with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Empower DC, and ANC commissioner Rhonda Hamilton from the neighborhood directly adjacent to Buzzard Point in Washington, D.C. Buzzard Point is an industrial neighborhood that is currently being redeveloped. It will be the site of the new DC United Soccer Stadium and many other new construction projects. Our work will involve conducting oral history interviews with residents living near Buzzard Point to document their family history in the neighborhood, relationship to the community and to the adjacent Anacostia River, and experiences with pollution and gentrification. We will host guest speakers as well as go on field trips and conduct off-campus research activities as part of this project. The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum will then add the transcripts to their archives and create a booklet based on your interviews to distribute to research participants after the class ends. When the booklet is ready (early 2017), there will be an optional reception at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum to which you will be invited. This effort is a pilot project to upon which I hope to build a longer-term research relationship with our off-campus partners.

After working with the various groups involved to plan the project, I scheduled a number of “Class Project Days” in my syllabus to move the project forward. Here’s what we used them for.

Preparatory assignment: Research Ethics and the Institutional Review Board

Howard University requires all research plans, including research conducted by students as part of their coursework, to be approved by the campus Institutional Review Board (IRB). This process is designed to protect “human subjects,” or people that are the target of academic research, from potential harm. Accordingly, the students’ first assignment was to complete the IRB’s two required online short-courses on research ethics. They then submitted their certification of passing grades, along with their resume, to me. See the assignment prompt here. I submitted their certifications and resumes along with the rest of the paperwork for the proposed study to the IRB early in the semester. This was stressful as there was no guarantee that the campus IRB would approve the project in time for us to start and finish our work within the limits of a single semester. It worked out in the end, but I would recommend others submit and complete the IRB paperwork in the semester or summer before the class whenever possible. Then at the beginning of the class in which the research will be conducted, merely do the necessary paperwork to add students to the project as extra research personnel. I recommend this process even if your university does not require IRB approval for research conducted by students as part of their coursework. Going through the IRB approval process is educational for the students, reinforces the importance of taking seriously their interactions with the public as researchers, and enables the faculty member or students to publish out of the research they conduct.

Preparatory assignment: Practice interview

After covering the fundamentals of oral history interviewing, students were assigned a practice interview. They divided into pairs and interviewed each other outside of class, using modified versions of the same questions we intended to use with our real interviews later. Students had to record the interviews, write short papers about the interview (its form and content), and turn both in. See the assignment prompt here. In class we then discussed what worked well and what they would have done differently in order to improve their interviewing skills. After they conducted the practice interviews with sample questions I gave them, we also had a class discussion about what other questions ought to be added before we conducted our “real” interviews and I edited the list accordingly.

Guest speakers

On two different class days, I hosted guest speakers from our collaborating organizations to come tell us about their work and describe what they hoped to get out of the class project. Kari Fulton, Empower DC’s environmental justice organizer, spoke on the same day the students did a reading on the concept of cumulative environmental impacts – or the way multiple pollution sources add up to a cumulative health burden that is poorly understood by science and poorly addressed by regulation. Katrina Lashley, the Urban Waterways project coordinator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, spoke to the students on the same day they read about oral history interviewing.

Field Trip

We also took a field-trip designed to help students better understand the local environment by taking a boat tour of the Anacostia River. See photos and a description here. Although many of the people living near Buzzard Point that we interviewed later in the semester had little contact with the nearby Anacostia and Potomac rivers, the field-trip still helped the students locate themselves and the project within Washington DC environmental concerns. If I teach this class again with the same research project, I hope to schedule a field-trip to the Buzzard Point neighborhood in place of, or in addition to, the river tour.


The topical readings of the course were relevant to the research we conducted. In addition, we read things designed to educate the students on the research process. These included the following:

  • Hunt, Marjorie. 2012. Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interview Guide. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved August 21, 2016 (http://www.museumonmainstreet.org/education/Oral_History_Guide_Final.pdf)
  • Cable, Sherry, Tamara Mix, and Donald Hastings. 2005. “Mission Impossible Environmental Justice Activists’ Collaborations with Professional Environmentalists and with Academics.” Pp. 55-75 in Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement, edited by D. Pellow, D. Naguib and R. J. Brulle. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

In addition, two other “Class Project Days” featured readings specific to our local research topic. One on the Anacostia River and was assigned the day before our river tour. The others included press coverage of the redevelopment efforts at Buzzard Point, neighborhood that was the target of our research. See the syllabus for details.


By the time we got to conducting the actual interviews, the students were well prepared to do so professionally, though of course they still have room to improve their interviewing skills, as does any novice researcher. Our class traveled together to the Syphax Gardens public housing units to conduct the interviews after a meeting of the residents’ council. Some of the people there had been notified by our host, Rhonda Hamilton, that the interviews would be taking place, and others learned of our project for the first time that evening. Eight residents stayed after the meeting to be interviewed. The students individually reviewed the consent forms required by Howard and the Anacostia Museum with the residents before proceeding with the interviews. I floated through the two rooms in which the interviews were taking place to make myself available if any of the residents had questions the students could not answer.

In our next class, we discussed the following questions as a group to prompt the students to reflect on the interviewing experience and began to analyze the interviews themselves:

  • What went well?
  • What could be improved?
  • What did you learn in your interview?
  • What new questions did the interview leave you with?

After discussing these topics, I then linked the above questions to the methods, findings, and future research sections of the final papers that they would write.  But before writing their final papers, the students had several other assignments. They wrote and sent thank-you notes to the people they interviewed, uploaded the audio files of the interviews to our course management system, and transcribed the interviews. Then they wrote final papers in which they analyzed not only their own interviews, but the interviews conducted by the entire group.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the project went. It was a good opportunity to learn more about ongoing environmental justice work in Washington D.C. for both myself and my students. The fact that many of the residents brought up similar issues that the students had read about during the course made everything more real to them. The students also seemed to enjoy the opportunity to take their learning outside of the university walls. For their part, the residents we interviewed seemed appreciative of the students’ interest and professionalism.

This semester, I continue to work on the project with one of my graduate student research assistants (Jesse Card), and one of the undergraduates from that class who has stayed on as a spring research assistant (Amanda Bonam). They did quality control on the student transcriptions by listening to the interview recordings and correcting the transcriptions as necessary, and then sending the corrected transcripts to the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum to place in their archives. Jesse is also sending copies of the transcripts and signed consent forms to all the participants. We are also conducting more interviews with other Syphax Gardens residents that were suggested during our first round of interviews. As a group, we will be reading through all the transcripts and recommending excerpts to feature in the booklet that the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum is making. My undergraduate research assistant is also communicating with the project partners about organizing a spring event to launch the booklet, and establishing a review process for the creation of the booklet. Between the three of us we have been attending ongoing public hearings about the development of Buzzard Point and its impact on neighboring residents. Amanda has adopted the project for her senior honors thesis, and Jesse will lead us in writing one or several academic articles out of the interview data, which parallels his own master’s thesis research. After this spring, we will revisit the project with all partners to discuss to potential of continuing or expanding it with my next batch of Environmental Inequality students in the fall.

See photos of our interview outing, and links to the class syllabus and assignment prompts ,below.


My students waiting for the residents’ council meeting to end and interviewing to begin.


Project partners Kari Fulton (Empower DC) and Rhonda Hamilton (ANC 6D).


Student Brittany Danzy interviews Ms. Mildred Young.


Students Tyla Swinton and Joseph Dillard are having a good time interviewing Ms. Michelle Young.


Students Ravelle Matthews and Romie Michel interview Ms. Mary Wilson.


Students Angelyna Seldon and Amanda Bonam interview Ms. Gloria Hamilton.


Kari Fulton’s son kept the students entertained when they weren’t otherwise occupied.


The view from Syphax Gardens public housing.

Class syllabus and assignment prompts:

Creating Multimedia Class Research Projects with Google Sites and YouTube

Last spring I posted briefly about a new multimedia assignment in which students create their own websites that I used with my students in “The Making of California” at UC Santa Cruz. This fall, I tried it again with my “Environmental Inequality” students here at Howard University. I was, for the second time, happy with how the assignment turned out. Since several people have asked for details, I’m posting my assignment prompts and other reflections here. I will also be presenting this assignment at Howard’s first “Teaching With Technology” conference this Friday.

First, let me acknowledge how important it is to have colleagues with whom to discuss these kinds of projects! Rachel Deblinger joined UC Santa Cruz last year as a Postdoctoral Fellow through the Council on Library and Information Resources. Her presence on campus brought those of us doing work in the digital humanities and digital social sciences together for a rich exchange of ideas that prompted me to create this assignment. Rachel also made herself available for one-on-one brainstorming sessions. As a result, I abandoned an overly ambitious assignment idea that used a different website platform and ended up with this one instead, which sets students up for a successful first experience creating a website on which to post their own original research and writing. So, thank you, Rachel!

Here’s the gist of it. The assignment asks students to research and write a multimedia essay on a subject of their choice that is featured on a website of their own design. The purpose is to improve students’ content knowledge, research and writing skills while also teaching the following: 1) how to write for a public audience, 2) media literacy, and 3) basic web design. Students do not need any prior technical skills in order to successfully complete the assignment, and are given detailed prompts for small assignments throughout the semester that support step-by-step development of their projects. They also complete in-class activities designed to help them think about how to write for different audiences.

By the end of the course, the students each create a website that includes the following:

  • An original essay informed by their research that incorporates relevant YouTube videos
  • A curator’s statement that describes why the student chose the YouTube videos that they chose
  • An annotated bibliography
  • An author’s biography
  • A copyright statement
  • One other section of content of their own choice

Here are some of my supporting documents that you may find useful as you adapt this assignment to your own purposes:



  1. Why did you use Google Sites? I used Google Sites because it was the easiest website creation tool that I could find, and because at both institutions where I tried this assignment, Google already provides the student’s campus e-mail service. So, they all already have Google accounts. For my own websites, I use WordPress. It is free, open-source, and more sophisticated. However, I quickly decided that WordPress was too technically complex for what I had in mind for my students. The point of the assignment isn’t to teach technical skills so much as it is to have students practice all the usual stuff (research and writing), while also having a successful first experience sharing their writing in a website of their own creation. For those who take a liking to the experience, it may serve as a gateway into more complex website creation tools. After conversation with my tech mentor Allen Gunn at Aspiration, I also plan to incorporate a conversation with my students about the risks of relying on for-profit web infrastructure such as Google Sites next time I do this assignment, even while I plan to still use Google Sites.
  2. This sounds like a lot of work. How many students did you have? I used this assignment for one class of 30 and one class of 6. Though to be fair, when I taught the class of 30 I was teaching a new course for the first time, on the academic job market for the first time, and finishing my dissertation (for the first time). I taught the class of 6 was while teaching two classes (one for the first time), and getting oriented at a new academic institution. If my class size went much over 30, I would probably start requiring this project be done in pairs or small groups to cut down on the time spent grading. You could also try cutting some of the mini-assignments, such as the list of sources or the draft website with written content, though the final projects would be of lesser quality as a result.
  3. I don’t know anything about creating websites. Can I still use this assignment with my students? Yes, Google Sites are fairly straightforward to create, and my assignment prompts provide step-by-step instructions for how to create them. Literally, the prompts say things like “click the button shaped like a pencil in the upper-right corner of your screen.” However, you do need to be able to do the assignment yourself before you give it to your students, and to be willing to help them with any technical problems they may encounter (in my experience so far, they haven’t had many). It is also worth asking the tech support at your institution if they provide technical support to students with Google Sites, in which case you can hand off all technical questions to someone else. This has not been an option at either of the campuses where I have done the assignment.
  4. How do you make sure this assignment still works even as Google Sites changes? You need to set aside a half hour to an hour to do the assignment again yourself before the semester starts every time you teach the class, especially when you are teaching it in a new institution. This ensures that the instructions on your assignment prompt are up-to-date even as the technological infrastructure inevitably changes over time (think of all of Facebook’s changes on how to manage your privacy settings). Do not just take my assignment prompts and use them without test-driving them yourself and making corrections! I did almost all of the assignment with my Howard e-mail address before classes began this fall. I found out later that I had neglected one of the steps, the copyright statement, which includes directions for how to import the symbol representing the level of copyright protection the student chooses for their work. It turns out that doing this task through Howard’s Google-provided student e-mail accounts was mysteriously complicated in ways that my UC Santa Cruz students did not experience. If I had known, I would have told them to skip importing the symbol, and just to use the appropriate language without the visual cue. Oh well. I also learned through this process that Howard automatically adds the campus name and logo to Google Sites created by students with their campus e-mail addresses, whereas UC Santa Cruz did not.
  5. Can I see your students’ final websites? An important part of the assignment, to me, is that it prompts students to set their websites to “private” at the beginning of the class. Some of you may wonder why I do this. After all, isn’t the purpose to get students to practice writing for a public audience, and not just writing for their professor? Well, yes and no. That is the ultimate goal, but the key is that students are practicing this skill, in many cases for the first time. Setting the website visibility to “private” at the beginning of the course means that they can practice this new skill safely in private without any potential negative ramifications from the (sometimes nasty) blogosphere. It also means that you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are running afoul of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. All that said, an important part of the assignment is that it is, or at least can be, “real” beyond the classroom. So, I tell students that while the class is in session their websites need to be “private” for all the reasons above, and then after the class ends, it is their decision whether or not to change their work’s status to fully “public” or to limit access to people of their choice. Of the 36 students who have done this assignment with me to date, to my knowledge only one student has made his or her website public. You can see it here. Thanks, Jesse!
  6. What would you do differently next time? I’ll likely increase the length of the essay that forms the core content of each student’s site. I made it short to begin with, since I was thinking of it as a blog post. But now I might reframe it into something in between a blog post and a digital “long-form essay” instead. Will need to think about that. I also notice that students have a hard time integrating their YouTube videos into their essays – many simply plunk them in the middle of their text with no introduction or analysis. So, I might introduce a lesson in class that addresses this problem, while emphasizing the ability to segway between ideas and content as a transferable skill important to many different kinds of writing. Also, Google Sites makes formatting the annotated bibliographies and citations list difficult, so I’d like to spend some time figuring out how to make them look better and then add those directions to the relevant assignment prompt. Also, I’ll probably have students switch from using parenthetical citations in their essays (standard in my field) to endnotes (visually cleaner for public-facing work).

That’s all for now. I will undoubtedly think of more things that belong here over the next few days, as well as after Friday’s presentation at Howard’s “Teaching With Technology” Conference. I may cheat and add these things to this post later, so check back next week.




“25 Stories” grows up!

This month I proudly released an expanded, updated version of the 25 Stories from the Central Valley website.  Please meet…. Voices from the Valley!  In addition to the original photo exhibit and teaching aides, it includes these new features:

  • An interactive photo and oral history collage
  • San Joaquin Valley environmental justice news coverage
  • Slideshow of our playback theater events with Kairos Theater Ensemble
  • Environmental justice syllabus collection
  • A map of the San Joaquin Valley towns where we’ve taken photos and collected stories
  • An expanded list of groups working toward environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley, and links to their social media
  • Suggestions for how you can volunteer

Lots of people helped make this relaunch happen, but the project is especially indebted to tech wizards Tyler LaGue (formerly of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis), Allen Gunn and the rest of the team at Aspiration, and Grant Kinney of GMK Design. See a full list of the people and organizations involved with this project throughout its history here and here. I continue to be honored to know the environmental justice activists who have so generously shared their stories with me over the 6 years since this project began.

Read on for some of the thinking behind the changes…

Cumulative impacts: One of the concepts that environmental justice advocates regularly invoke is ‘cumulative impacts.’ People are exposed to multiple pollution sources as they go about their daily lives, not just one at a time.  However, our regulatory structure is largely inattentive to this reality, and often grants permits for new pollution sources by assessing them individually rather than assessing their contribution to the cumulative burden of pollution already felt in that area. Needless to say, poor people and people of color bear a higher cumulative burden of pollution than the rest of us.  The new Voices from the Valley website has several features intended to support this framing.

  • News feed/archive: By collecting news sources about all environmental justice issues in the Valley in the same place, the news feed underscores the multiple, intersecting pollution problems in the region.  This comes across particularly well when you navigate to the archive view and look at a long list of headlines from the year. I could using a screenshot of this page in a classroom setting when teaching cumulative impacts.
  • Collage: The collage features photos and first-person quotes/stories.  They can be sorted and viewed by theme (ie ‘water,’ ‘air,’ ‘pesticides’ etc), but the default view is to have all of the categories show at once.  (However, I think this feature still needs a little work to be more user friendly – suggestions welcome!).
  • Map: The map provides a way to visualize where all of the communities featured in the project are in relation to eachother.  Clicking on many of the town names opens up a pop-up window with photos from the photo exhibit. In the future, I’d love to enhance this feature to include data on the various pollutants felt at each of these locations.

Multiple learning styles: The new site is designed to work with as many different learning styles as possible.  It features slideshows, interactive collages, oral history, activity and lecture ideas for the classroom, and a searchable news archive that includes articles, videos, radio, television and digital multimedia projects. (When the first version of Voices from the Valley launched 5 years ago, we also did several interactive theater shows with Kairos Theater Ensemble. See this post for a description).

Social media: Advocacy groups are increasingly using social media channels to get their message out. The new site’s list of relevant organizations in the San Joaquin Valley now includes links to their twitter and facebook channels, as well as a way for viewers to subscribe to all of their twitter channels at once. We also now have our own Voices from the Valley twitter and facebook accounts. The folks at Aspiration have been a big help in thinking through how these accounts can promote the project’s goals.  I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with how to use them to engage in public conversations and connect to like-minded organizations.

New name: ’25 Stories from the Central Valley’ was a great name, but inaccurate in a lot of ways. The original name was built around the 25 interviews I did with women environmental justice leaders in the Central Valley. The idea was that I would edit each of their interviews into stand-alone stories for the website… hence ’25 Stories.’ Only thing is, that was a much bigger project than I realized when I picked the name, and I never made it happen.  So then I decided that if the photo exhibit was made up of 25 photos, that was close enough for the name to still work. But it got tiring explaining that to people, and eventually I also wanted more flexibility in the number of photos I could include in the  exhibit. Also, when I started the project I thought it would cover the entire Central Valley, but the environmental justice movement is at its strongest in the southern half of the Central Valley (the San Joaquin Valley), and all the women I interviewed lived there or got started there. The more familiar I got with the area, the more I realized how distinct the San Joaquin Valley is from the Sacramento Valley (together they make up the Central Valley), and how the project name needed to reflect that.  ‘Voices from the Valley’ got around the problems associated with the last name, and is a broader platform for growth in the future.  Talking all of this through with the folks at smartMeme was a big help!

Upcoming event: Green museums!

I just finished a conference call with the organizers of JFKU’s annual Museum Studies Colloquium: “People/Planet/Profitability: Museums and Sustainability.”  I’ll be facilitating the break-out group on Community Engagement with JFKU faculty member Margaret Kadoyama, as well as speaking on an afternoon panel. Other facilitators will include staff from the California Academy of Sciences and The Center for Ecoliteracy.

This will be my second time participating in an event organized by museum professionals and museum studies scholars.  The last one I went to was a lot of fun – I had a great time thinking about how museums could become centers of environmental learning that serve vibrant, diverse audiences.  I hope to see you there!

Download a flyer here.

People/Planet/Profitability: Museums & Sustainability
November 17, 2012
9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

John F. Kennedy University, Berkeley Campus
2956 San Pablo Avenue
2nd Floor
Berkeley, CA 94702-2471

Community curators at the Museum of the American Indian

I recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. for the first time.  My favorite parts were the depictions of each tribe’s community curators.  I’d heard before going that this museum does a great job of portraying Native American culture and history from the perspective of Native Americans themselves instead of from the perspective of outside observers, as has so often been the case.  It reminded me a bit of one of the small town museums I visited in Mexico in 2006 that was part of the  Union of Community Museums of Oaxaca.  One historic photograph on display stood out in particular.  It depicted a handful of local residents in a large city, perhaps with rugs in hand, accompanied by a white woman.  The caption was an inversion of what one would typically see in a different setting.  Instead of naming the white woman and representing her as the discoverer of the local artisans, it named the locals and described how they took their arts out into the world, accompanied by a nameless white woman.  I loved it!

The community curator profiles at the Museum of the American Indian give some insight into how the exhibits came together, and did a nice job of personalizing the individual tribes.  It must have been hard to figure out which people, and tribes, to feature in such a high-profile space.

I was also intrigued by the children’s zone in the museum.  I love that the interactive features shown below teach children to understand Native Americans as multifaceted members of contemporary society by showing them in a variety of clothing styles that the viewers can mix and match. From what I saw they were very popular exhibits with the kids! On the other hand, turning Native youth into objects for viewers to play with made me a little uncomfortable.

New article out

The article based on the master’s research I began at UC Davis many moons ago was finally published this week!  Here’s the abstract and citation.  To read the full article, you need to connect to the journal’s website through a university server.


This article explores women’s pathways to participation in environmental justice advocacy in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Many scholars find that women become environmental justice activists according to a common set of experiences in which apolitical women personally experience an environmental problem that launches them into a life activism to protect the health of their families. Although a small group of the 25 women the author interviewed fit this description, overall the interviews reveal a much more diverse array of paths into environmental justice activism. The author’s data complicate the idea that environmental justice activism is the first political activity for most women environmental justice activists and that they are motivated to become activists primarily in order to protect the health of their families. The author discusses the significance of these findings and concludes with a call for scholars to revisit the question of women’s pathways into environmental justice activism.

Perkins, Tracy. 2012. “Women’s Pathways into Activism: Rethinking the Women’s Environmental Justice Narrative in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” Organization & Environment 25(1):76-94.

Teaching my first environmental justice class

I taught the first of what I hope will be a long career of classes in environmental justice this quarter.  It was a 40-student upper-divison sociology course formally titled “Environmental Inequality.”  My advisor Andy Szasz usually teaches it, but he had other responsibilities this year so I got to teach it instead.  I had a great time coming up with my own syllabus, and Andy kindly sat in one day to observe and offer tips based on his many years of classroom experience.  My father’s death in late January made this a difficult quarter, and Andy, Kevin Cody, Bradley Angel and Flora Lu helped get me through it with last minute guest-lectures and help with grading.

Since it was my first time teaching the class, I focused on getting the syllabus and lectures in order and didn’t get particularly creative with the class assignments and evaluations (5 pop quizzes, a take-home midterm and a take-home final).  Hopefully there will be opportunities for that later.  Instead, I chose a fairly straightforward lecture format interspersed with discussion, small group-work, movies and multi-media clips.

I’ve pasted the readings below, and added links and short descriptions of some of the things I did in class.  You can also find a complete version of the syllabus with the rest of my syllabus collection here.

I.       Understanding Environmental Inequality

January 9th               Introduction

  • Perkins, Tracy and Julie Sze. 2011. “Images from the Central Valley.” Boom:  A Journal of California 1(1):70-80.

Ice-breaker: Share Squares

Video: Youth On Fire

January 11th             Toxic distribution

  • Lerner, Steve. 2010. Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Introduction
  • Bullard, Robert, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha and Beverly Wright. 2007. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States. Cleveland, OH: United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
    • Ch. 4: A Current Appraisal of Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States – 2007

Lecture activity: My Town, Your Town.  I adapted the activity for use in lecture as described at the bottom of the link.

Visual: I showed some of my photos from the Voices from the Valley exhibit

January 13th               Conceptualizing the environment and environmentalism

  • Gottlieb, Robert. 1993. Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
    • Introduction: Where We Live, Work and Play
  • Rechtschaffen, Clifford, Eileen Gauna and Catherine A. O’Neill. 2009. Environmental Justice: Law, Policy and Regulation. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
    • Ch. 1, pgs 22-25.
    •  Letter, Circa Earth Day 1990.
    • Principles of Environmental Justice. The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. 1991

Lecture aid: What Is the Environment and What Do People Do There?

Video: Bird Like Me (5:48). I asked the students the following questions to get discussion going: What tensions did you see in the film? What different conceptions of the environment did you see? How does Wyatt Cenac feel about the Audubon Society’s involvement in Turkey Creek?  How do the residents feel? You can read my other posts on using this Daily Show clip in the classroom here and here.

January 16th              Holiday

January 18th             Cumulative impacts of toxic exposure      

Guest speaker: Jonathan London (UC Davis)

  • London, Jonathan, Ganlin Huang and Tara Zagofsky. 2011. Land of Risk/ Land of Opportunity: Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Davis, CA: UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

January 20th             Resource Extraction

Guest speaker: Flora Lu (UCSC – Latin American and Latino Studies)

  • Lu, Flora. “Petroleum Extraction, Indigenous People and Environmental Injustice in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” In International Environmental Justice.  Frederick Gordon and Gregory Freeland, Co-Editors. ILM Publishers. Forthcoming.       

January 23rd              Accidents and Disasters

  • Harrison, Jill. 2006. “’Accidents’ and Invisibilities: Scaled Discourse and the Naturalization of Regulatory Neglect in California’s Pesticide Drift Conflict.” Political Geography, 25(5), 506-529.

Activity: I asked the students to 1.) create a definition of an accident and come up with examples and 2.) discuss and take notes on when something ceases to be an accident and becomes ‘something else,’ and to come up with more examples of what the ‘something else’ might look like.

After we discussed their work, I asked the students to consider why it matters if something is determined to be an accident or not. We then made two lists of words on the chalkboard.  In one column we put words that are used to describe problems as individual and unique, and in the other column we put words used to describe broad societal problems.  Column A filled up with words like “bad apple,” “bad actor,” “individual,” “accidental,” “the exception, not the rule,” “local,” and “outlier.”  Column B filled up with words like “structural,” “widespread,” “patterned,” “everyday,” etc.

January 25th             International development

  • Agyeman, Julian, Robert D. Bullard, and Bob Evans, eds. 2003. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    • Ch. 1: “Environmental Space, Equity and the Ecological Debt” by Duncan McLaren

January 27th              Barriers to political participation

  • Cole, Luke and Sheila Foster. 2001. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. New York: New York University Press.
    • Ch. 5. Processes of Struggle: Grassroots Resistance and the Structure of Environmental Decision-Making
January 30th              Using science, contesting science
  • Corburn, Jason. 2005. Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Introduction
  • Shearer, Christine2011. Kivalina: A Climate Change Story. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
    • Ch. 1: Blueprint for Denial

Video: A Debilitating Medical Mystery (7:23) I asked the students to analyze the video based on the content of the reading assignment.

February 1st               Women and advocacy

  • Wallace, Aubrey. 1993. Eco-Heroes: Twelve Tales of Environmental Victory. San Francisco, CA: Mercury House.
    • Mrs. Gibbs Goes to Washington.
  • Perkins, Tracy. 2012. “Women’s Pathways Into Activism: Rethinking the Women’s Environmental Justice Narrative in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” Organization & Environment 25(1):76-94.

February 3rd                 Take home midterm

II.      What Causes Environmental Inequality?

February 6th               Regulations, the market, social capital and discrimination

  • Rechtschaffen, Clifford, Eileen Gauna and Catherine A. O’Neill. 2009. Environmental Justice: Law, Policy and Regulation. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
    • Ch. 3: Theories of Causation

Activity: The Story of Luis.  See pages 3-4 in chapter 26 of Helping Health Workers Learn.  I used this story to help train the students to analyze root causes of social problems. I read the story aloud and then asked the question, “Why did Luis die?” However, since I did not think the students would answer in the linear fashion modeled on pg. 4, I had them call out as many possible causes of Luis’s death as they could think of in no particular order.  As they called them out, I wrote down their answers on the board in loose columns. The columns on the left were the most individualized (“he stepped on a thorn”) and the columns on the right were the most social (“global capitalism fosters social inequality”).

February 8th               Regulatory Failure

  • Bernstein, M. 1955. Regulating Business by Independent Commission. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Pgs. 74-95.
  • Rechtschaffen, Clifford, Eileen Gauna and Catherine A. O’Neill. 2009. Environmental Justice: Law, Policy and Regulation. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
    • Ch. 5: Regulation and the Administrative State, pgs. 140-143

February 10th             Colonialism                                                    

  • Cronon, William. 1983. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang.
    • Ch. 4: Bounding the Land
    • Ch. 5: Commodities of the Hunt

Movie: In the Light of Reverence (77 min., available on Netflix)

February 13th             Commodification of land and labor

  • Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
    • Chapters 3-6 

February 15th             Capitalism

  • Faber, Daniel. 2008. Capitalizing on Environmental Injustice: The Polluter-Industrial Complex in the Age of Globalization. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
    • Ch. 1: “Not All People Are Polluted Equal: The Environmental Injustices of American Capitalism.”

Video: Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground (20:29)

III.          What is being done?

February 17th             Protecting individual communities

  • Cole, Luke and Sheila Foster. 2001. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. New York: New York University Press.
    • Preface: We Speak for Ourselves: The Struggle of Kettleman City

February 20th             Holiday

February 22nd            Policy advocacy, electoral politics and the courts in the US

  • Website: Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. http://www.crpe-ej.org/crpe/. Read entries under “Campaigns” including: Civil Rights, Clean Air, Dairies, Climate Justice, National, Forgotten Voices, Don’t Waste the Valley, Pesticides, and Power to the People.
  • Website: The Women’s Foundation of California – Women’s Policy Institute. http://www.womensfoundca.org/site/c.aqKGLROAIrH/b.982359/k.8397/Womens_Policy_Institute.htm
  • Website: Communities for a New California. http://www.anewcalifornia.org/
  • Pellow, David Naguib and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 10: “Environmental Justice and the Legal System” by Holly D. Gordon and Keith I. Harley.

February 24th             International advocacy

  • Carmin, JoAnn and Julian Agyeman. 2011. Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 7: “Global Environmental Governance and Pathways for the Achievement of Environmental Justice” by Beth Schaefer Caniglia
  • Keefe, Patrick Radden. 2012. “Reversal of Fortune.” The New Yorker, Jan. 9, 38-49.

February 27th             Research

  • Pellow, David Naguib and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 4: “Mission Impossible? Environmental Justice Activists’ Collaborations with Professional Environmentalists and with Academics” by Sherry Cable, Tamara Mix, and Donald Hastings.

Activity 1: We made a list of common problems that arise between activists and academics in one column, and in a second column listed explanations for these problems.

Activity 2: Students got a chance to see a real world example of how one group of academics and activists are trying to work together productively. I handed out copies of the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project’s “Principles of Collaboration” document. You can see them here.  Students read them individually and identified where they saw the activists’ interests being protected and where they saw the academics’ interests being protected.

Lecture aid: Voices from the Valley project overview.  An alternate example of an academic (me) trying to work productively with activist groups.

February 29th             Market-based vs. command-and-control environmental management

  • Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2008. Environmental Politics and Policy. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
    • Ch. 5: More Choice: The Battle Over Regulatory Economics

Video: The Story of Cap and Trade (9:56)  I asked the students to watch for 1) tensions between market-based and command-and-control regulation and 2) potential environmental justice implications of cap-and-trade regulation of greenhouse gases.

March 2nd                   Government Responses

  • London, Sze, Liévanos. 2008. “Problems, Promise, Progress and Perils: Critical Reflections on Environmental Justice Policy Implementation in California.” UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 26(2):255-290.

March 5th                   Cross-movement organizing

Guest speaker: Catalina Garzón (Pacific Institute)

IV.   Broadening the Lens

March 7th                   Renewable Resources

Guest speaker: Bradley Angel (Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice)

March 9th                   Climate Justice

March 12th                 Food Justice

Guest speaker: Alison Alkon (University of the Pacific)

  • Alkon, Alison and Julian Agyeman, eds. 2011. Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • “Introduction: The Food Movement as Polyculture” by Alison Alkon and Julian Agyeman
    • “Conclusion: Cultivating the Fertile Field of Food Justice” by Alison Alkon and Julian Agyemen

V.    Looking Back, Looking Forward

March 14th                    Outcomes

  • Pellow, David Naguib and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 1: “Power, Justice, and the Environment: Towards Critical Environmental Justice Studies” by David Naguib Pellow and Robert J. Brulle
    • Ch. 5: “Who Wins, Who Loses? Understanding Outcomes of Environmental Injustice Struggles” by Melissa Toffolon-Weiss and Timmons Roberts

March 16th                 Moving forward

  • Bullard, Robert, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha and Beverly Wright. 2007. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States. Cleveland, OH: United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
    • Ch. 2: Environmental Justice Timeline – Milestones 1987-2007
  • Solnit, Rebecca. 2000. Hope in the Dark. New York: Verso.
    • Ch. 1: Looking into Darkness
    • Ch. 10: Changing the Imagination of Change
    • Ch. 12: The Angel of Alternate History
    • Ch. 14: Getting the Hell Out of Paradise

Take home final