Latina/o high school students' standpoint on environmental justice in a border community: A phenomenological study

Cynthia Christina Ontiveros, University of Texas at El Paso


This qualitative research is a transcendental phenomenology seeking to understand Latin@ high school students’ perceptions and standpoints as they participated lessons that addressed border environmental justice issues in an underrepresented, marginalized community. Seven students from Borderland High School, enrolled in a senior level course, Environmental Science, participated in the study which focused on their experiences in an environmental justice air quality thematic unit built around the complex issues surrounding a local refinery, American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). The study analyzed the meaning students made and their standpoints regarding the impact of the factory and its one-hundred year history polluting the community’s air shed. Data collection included Seidman (2006) interviews, focus groups, and participant observations. The data was coded using van Manen’s (1990) emergent analysis. The theory that underlies the study draws from Latina Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) and Standpoint Feminist Theory. LatCrit’s key tenets include production of knowledge, advancement of transformation, the expansion and connection of struggles, and cultivation of community and coalition (Valdes, 1997); whereas Standpoint Theory addressed the “double consciousness” (Wood, 2010, p. 62) that many individuals in oppressive relationships understand as they consider their position in relation to the dominant’s position. The intersections of these theories guided the interpretation of the students’ perceptions of race, class, poverty, and location in reference to environment justice. The findings suggest that students developed to some extent: 1) an awareness of obligated exposure, 2) sense of place, 3) transformative thinking, and 4) taking personal action and advocating for others. The students expressed various standpoints in relation to power and authority and regarded their personal position when reflecting on the factory workers and underrepresented community members who were exposed to environmental harm in relation to their geographic and social positions. Various standpoints were evident in student discussions about how age and time influenced their perceptions and also hindered their ability to respond and take action. Students identified intersections of race, class, poverty and location in reference to environmental justice, through a LatCrit lens of critical reflexivity. The study demonstrates the value of providing a culturally responsive curricula in schools, one that honors students’ identity, culture, history, and environment as a starting point for engaging in meaningful lessons that ultimately foster and sustain proenvironmental behaviors and civic responsibility. Teaching from a critical pedagogical perspective is challenging and requires ongoing teacher support and assessment of the quality and impact. This study is particularly important as the literature in this field is woefully weak in addressing student voices in environmental education and social justice experiences, especially studies from the standpoint of high-school Latin@ students.

Subject Area

Environmental education|Teacher education|Environmental Justice

Recommended Citation

Ontiveros, Cynthia Christina, "Latina/o high school students' standpoint on environmental justice in a border community: A phenomenological study" (2015). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3724936.