Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

John Saltmarsh

Second Advisor

Cheryl Ching

Third Advisor

Jose Martinez-Reyes


Starting in the early 1980’s, the environmental justice (EJ) movement was critical in drawing much needed attention to how communities of color, low-income groups, Indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups have experienced a disproportionate burden of environmental and ecological harms. The EJ movement sparked the birth of the EJ field of study. While originally focused on quantitative and distributional understandings of toxic waste in communities of color, the EJ field of study has since expanded to comprise community-based methodologies and new ways to understand justice, including participatory, recognition, and transformational approaches. The EJ field now represents multiple areas such as climate, food, worker, global, and transnational justice.

However, despite the continued growth of the EJ movement and field of study, and recognition by organizations within higher education, theory and empirical research has demonstrated that EJ content knowledge and those who embody this content knowledge continue to be excluded within interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability (IES) degree programs. As such, this dissertation seeks to explore how EJ faculty develop, organize, and implement their EJ courses within different institutional and disciplinary contexts.

This study employs an interpretive multiple case study along with a theoretical and conceptual framework organized around the process and practices of faculty instruction. The core findings demonstrate that although all faculty members expressed activist epistemic orientations and community engaged goals for their instruction, each faculty member implemented these goals differently due to competing epistemologies, and different programmatic and institutional supports and impediments. Various levels of community engaged curricular and pedagogical practices are examined through a continuum of community engaged EJ instruction.

Community engaged EJ instructional practices included the encouragement of activism, invitation of guest speakers, courses designed around site visits and community partnerships, and the practice of decolonial field methods. Key implications discuss how and why EJ content knowledge and community engaged pedagogical practices should be intentionally integrated into IES program contexts. Additionally, the implications explore how the use of collaborative, student-centered, and community engaged methodologies are connected to culturally relevant and justice-centered instructional practices, and how these may apply to various disciplinary contexts across higher education.