Environmental Justice Stories

Time needed: 30 minutes

Why do it: This teaching tool introduces students to environmental justice problems and organizing from the perspective of women activists from California’s Central Valley. It also provides a way to link this topic to your course through guided group discussions.



  • Print out one story listed above for each group of 3–5 students. Use the list of ideas below to help you choose discussion questions.


  1. Begin by gauging the group’s familiarity with the environmental justice movement. It may be helpful to ask who is familiar with the term “environmental justice.” If only a few of the students are familiar with the term, provide a brief description. If you have more time, first do the “Environmental Justice Defined” activity.
  2. Divide students into groups of three to five and hand out one story to each group. Make sure that there are a variety of stories being passed out to different groups. Have more than one group read the same story if needed.
  3. Ask students to read the stories in their groups and then discuss them. Select 2–3 questions to discuss from the list of ideas below.
    • Race, class and gender
      • How do issues of race, class, and/or gender figure into this story? Do you see evidence of certain events or actions as specifically class-based? Race-based? Gendered?
      • If so, what do you think the role of class/race/gender is in the story? Does it allow for certain opportunities that it would not with a more diverse population? Does it pose certain challenges that would not be present with a less diverse population?
      • How does the woman’s class and/or race impact her experience of the environment? How does it impact her activism? Her health?
      • Does the woman’s gender shape her experience of the environment or her activism?
    • Knowledge, expertise and power
      • How does the woman’s access to knowledge about the environmental effects of her situation affect her action in the story?
      • How is knowledge articulated in this story? What forms does it take, and how are those forms legitimated?
      • Are some forms of expertise and knowledge more valued than others in the story? Do you think certain types of knowledge are more valued than others in US society? Why?
      • How might access to knowledge (for example, scientific data) play a role in environmental justice movements?
    • Linking environmental justice to other social movements
      • What similarities do you see between the environmental justice movement and other social movements?
    • Immigration
      • In what ways might a person’s citizenship status affect his/her ability to confront an issue of environmental justice in his/her community?
    • Organizing
      • What approach does the woman take to organizing for environmental justice in this story?
      • What social, cultural, or economic factors do you think affect the choice of this form of organization?
      • What are the benefits of this approach? The limitations?
      • What conditions might an approach like this need to be successful?
  4. Bring the entire group back together and ask one person from each group to briefly describe the story and then share their answers to the discussion questions. Help to identify any recurring themes for the entire group.