Southern California Youth Learn about Environmental Justice

By Omar Perez-Figueroa. March 12, 2018.

On February 24, 2018, UCI hosted the PUENTE 9th Grade Student Leadership Conference. For more than 30 years, the PUENTE Project has improved the

college-going rate of tens of thousands of California’s educationally underrepresented students.. At the annual conference,  southern California high school

students and their parents attended workshops to strengthen participants’ aptitudes and expose them to new experiences. PUENTE invited the UCI Community Resilience Projects to offer two workshops to explore “Environmental Justice: What’s in Your Power?”


Three UCI students and colleagues from the Advanced Community Resilience Organizing Seminar stepped up to design and lead the sessions: .  Monica Rivera Vazquez, MSW; Nicole Ives, 4th year Social Ecology undergraduate;  and Omar Perez Figueroa, first year Urban Planning, and Public Policy  Ph. D student. The team divided the workshop into two sections, with an impact on 57 students total. The objectives of the workshop were to

Lead workshop design Omar Perez

  • spark participant’s interest in environmental justice (EJ);
  • Develop shared understandings of what is EJ, how it relates to social justice, and how youth can make an impact; and
  • present UCI as a resource center to address EJ issues.


The workshop used three approaches to achieve these objectives. First, participants played “environmental Pictionary,” in which respondents had to guess different EJ concepts from drawings. This game served as a starting point to introduce key EJ concepts. Second, participants reflected on the concepts, which helped them build the connection between human actions,  environmental issues, and disparate impact on underrepresented communities. Finally, the group discussed what youth around the world are doing to address EJ issues, using examples such as Jefferson Boulevard in Los Angeles, where the community organizes to push out the oil industry from their neighborhoods.


At the end, participants described the workshop as very informative, fun and engaging.  Activities like this workshop help build community resilience. They are also essential to making more visible the ways environmental justice strategies can help us construct a better world, and at the same time foster critical minds. UCI Community Resilience Projects will next offer a similar workshop to a group of high school students from southern Californian Native Nations during an upcoming visit to UCI this spring.