Texas Tech University

Literature, Social Justice, and Environment

The Literature, Social Justice, and Environment (LSJE) initiative in the Department of English centers upon the most important developments in the study of the natural environment in literature.  Issues of race, regionalism, and social justice have been embedded in environmental literature from its beginnings. Most of us know Thoreau wrote Walden but sometimes forget he also wrote “Civil Disobedience.” Edward Abbey's MA thesis examined the moral implications of political violence. John Muir not only helped convince Theodore Roosevelt to found the National Park system but also wrote about the forced removal of Yosemite's Native American inhabitants in order to turn the valley into our first wilderness park--a park which would then adopt the image of the "Indian Brave" to grace its front entrance. More recently, Carolyn Merchant has written on the connections between slavery and soil degradation in the American south. Gloria Anzaldúa's metaphor of the borderlands originates in the geographic and psycho-social space of the U.S.-Mexico political boundary. Cherríe Moraga writes about the everyday experience of the environment for queer women of color and defines environment as home, work, food, and body.

In other words, regional studies, race, ethnicity, and postcoloniality are inextricable from studies of environmental literature.  Our aim with the LSJE initiative is to engage students who share the desire to approach canonical, contemporary, and newly discovered historical literature through the intellectual media of these combined sensibilities. Students will revisit important texts in a new light—across political boundaries into bioregions--within environmental historical contexts.

Students pursuing study in LSJE will have the chance to take courses in ecocriticism, social justice theory, race and gender theory, and appropriate literary periods and subjects. MA students may take as many as 15 hours of coursework in such areas and write a thesis. PhD students must take at least 18 hours and can take more, and there is also a flexible LSJE Minor offered at the undergraduate level. Students will also have access to the Sowell Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World, one of the finest repositories of contemporary ecocritical literatures.  Founded in part by American Book Award winning nature writer Barry Lopez, whose papers form the basis of the Sowell Collection, students will also have the opportunity to participate in the annual Sowell Conference held at Texas Tech University and featuring appearances by other Sowell Collection authors. 


  • Zachary Hernandez (Ph.D. 2023) is an Assistant Professor in English at Texas A&M International University, Laredo, TX.
  • Bernadette Russo (Ph.D. 2020) is an Assistant Professor in English at Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • Apryl Lewis (Ph.D. 2020) is an Assistant Professor in English at Fresno City College, Fresno, CA.
  • Bernadette Russo (Ph.D. 2020) is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Central Oklahoma.
  • Luke Morgan (Ph.D. 2019) is Tutor Trainer and Coordinator in the Center for Academic Excellence at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • Monica Montelongo Flores (PhD 2016) is an Associate Professor of English at California State University, Stanislaus
  • Kerry Fine (Ph.D. 2015), just accepted a full-time instructor position with the Writing Program at Arizona State University.
  • Brandon Schuler (Ph.D. 2014) is an environmental activist, advocate for Ocean Conservancy, and an author for Outdoor Life.
  • Maria O'Connell (Ph.D. 2012) is an Associate Professor of English at Wayland Baptist University.
  • Quan Ha (Ph.D. 2011), the first Ph.D. student to graduate with a concentration in LSJE, is a Professor of American Literature & Ethnic Studies and the Director of Literature for the Department of English at the University of Montana.


For more information about LSJE, contact Cordelia Barrera or Sara Spurgeon, or by calling the Department of English at (806) 742-2500.

For general information about graduate study in English at Texas Tech University, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies by email or at (806) 742-2500 ext. 248.