PWR 194EP: Introduction to Environmental Justice: Perspectives on Race, Class, Gender, and Place

PWR 1, PWR 2


Environmental justice means ensuring equal access to environmental benefits and preventing the disproportionate impacts of environmental harms for all communities—regardless of gender, class, race, ethnicity or other social positions. This introductory course examines the rhetoric, history and key case studies of environmental justice while encouraging critical and collaborative thinking, reading and researching about diversity in environmental movements within the global community and at Stanford, including the ways race, class and gender have shaped environmental battles still being fought today—from Standing Rock to Flint, Michigan. We center diverse voices by bringing leaders, particularly from marginalized communities on the frontlines to our classroom to communicate experiences, insights and best practices. Together we will develop original research projects which may serve a particular organizational or community need, such as racialized dispossession, toxic pollution and human health, or indigenous land and water rights, among many others.
This course includes two components. The first class session introduces students to the foundational texts and materials of environmental justice studies and will focus on a different lens each week, although analysis of the rhetoric of social and political systems and institutions and their relationship to race, class and gender will play a central role in each class. Students will engage in discussion of the material and work toward writing their own final research based project that will be a unique contribution to the Environmental Justice conversation. As noted above, the second session of the week will focus on a diverse range of guest speakers (practitioners, scholars, organizers, etc.) with particular expertise in that week’s theme.

Annotated List of Major Assignments:

  • Proposal: You will develop a brief project proposal, outlining a research project of appropriate scope related to a specific environmental justice issue or lens. Here, you will articulate research question(s) and methods that engage questions of diversity and power in the context of environmental issues; establish the significance of the project; as well as present information from a range of primary and secondary sources. You may want to work with an EJ-focused community group or organization but this is not required.
  • Research project: You will develop, research, write and revise several drafts of your project. Building on the work you began in the proposal, you’ll craft an original essay about your topic by extending the research, synthesizing sources, integrating appropriate evidence, and streamlining delivery into a logical, cohesive whole.
  • Short presentation: At the end of the quarter you’ll give a short presentation where you will have an opportunity to share your final work with the class and the larger Stanford community.
  • Reflection: You will write a brief reflection on your experience in the course, the research, and writing process, including what you have learned about critically engaging with the theories and practices of environmental justice and how you might take this work forward.
  • Collaboration, reading reflections and in-class work:  This includes participation in class activities, sharing weekly written reflections on the readings and guest speakers, collaborating on peer reviews of your research projects and in class writing and revision exercises.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Emily Polk

PWR Advanced Lecturer

School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences Writing Specialist

Areas of specialization: social science, journalism, creative writing

All genres

Enoys coaching goal setting, brainstorming, revision strategies, writing for publication 


Writing Specialist Consultation hours:

  • Mondays 2:00pm to 3:00pm at Hume

  • Wednesdays 12:00pm to 3:00pm at Y2E2 Rm. 278


Sibyl Diver

Social Science Research Scholar, Earth System Science

Sibyl Diver is a research scientist at Stanford University in the Department of Earth System Science. She does community-engaged research on Indigenous water governance focusing on Pacific Northwest salmon watersheds. This includes research on co-management (or collaborative management) arrangements between Indigenous communities and state agencies. She received her PhD from Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the College of Natural Resources. Sibyl completed her undergraduate work at Stanford, earning a dual degree in Human Biology and Russian. Prior to graduate school, Sibyl spent eight years with the non-profit Pacific Environment, supporting Russian grassroots environmental and indigenous leaders to have a voice in natural resource management decisions. Sibyl is a member of the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative, a group supporting the Karuk Tribe's eco-cultural revitalization strategy in Northern California.

For publications and full CV, please see