School of Arts & Architecture / Department of Design Media Arts 


The University of California, Los Angeles occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Tongva and Chumash peoples. Our ability to gather and learn here is the result of coercion, dispossession, and colonization. We are grateful for the land itself and the people that have stewarded it through generations. While a land acknowledgment is not enough, it is a first step in the work toward supporting decolonial and Indigenous movements for sovereignty and self-determination. Read more about what land you’re occupying here: 

DESMA 173: Topics in Visual Communication + Image 

Local Legacies: Environmental (In)Justice in Los Angeles

Winter 2021
Tuesdays + Thursdays 9:00 – 11:50 AM
Class zoom link:

Click here for the Class Google Drive Folder.

Instructor: Erin Cooney
Instructor pronouns: she, her, hers 
Office Hours: Thursdays 12:00-1:00 PM, or by appointment / please sign up in advance
Zoom link:

Teaching Assistant: Alvaro Azcarraga
TA pronouns: he, him, his
Office Hours: By appointment


“You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.” 

Hop Hopkins, Director of Organizational Transformation for the Sierra Club

This course will explore the legacy of Environmental Injustice in Los Angeles County. The concept of Environmental Justice provides a framework with which to consider how communities constituted of Indigenous peoples, Black people, or people of color are and have been disproportionately subjected to environmental inequities, health hazards, and/or dangers associated with land displacement, heavy industry, and pollution. 

This class is a combination of seminar and studio art work. Students will learn about the concept of Environmental Justice and its implicit ties to colonialism, racism, and ecological crisis, as well as particular instances of Environmental Injustice in Los Angeles. After conducting research on a chosen local environmental justice topic, site, or dynamic, students will produce an individual creative project about their site or dynamic, whether a book, website, video, installation, photographic series, multimedia experience, or graphic design campaign. In addition, students will gain an understanding of how contemporary environmental art practices grounded in justice can respond to today’s critical social challenges and contribute towards wider societal action on ecological crisis and environmental justice. Finally, students will be instructed on various types of communication methods and the importance of considering one’s audience when crafting art and design solutions. 



Your Research Presentation, Midterm Presentation, and Final Project are due at the start of class on the assignment’s due date. Be sure to input a url link to your assignment on the project spreadsheet. Assignments may be turned in up to one week late for a one letter grade deduction from the original project grade. Work that is more than one week late will not be accepted. If you are absent, you are still expected to turn in projects online by the deadline. Extra time will not be given for work lost due to save issues, editor or browser errors, computer crash, etc. You should regularly click File > Download to save copies of your work in progress as zip files. It would also be smart to make a backup of these online or on an external hard drive or USB stick in case your computer is lost. 


Participation is an important part of this class. Do the work, share your thoughts, ask questions, prepare for meetings, offer feedback during critiques. This class is meant to be a safe space in which you feel encouraged and supported in learning and taking creative risks. This means being aware and considerate of different backgrounds, perspectives, and identities. Respect each other and this space we are building together. Don’t assume. Try to remain open to learning at all times. Help each other in this. If there are concerns please let me know as soon as possible. 


You get one unexcused absence, no questions asked. Each unexcused absence after that will result in one full letter grade deduction. Three unexcused absences will result in a failed grade in the class. If there is an emergency and you must miss class, email me (at and Alvaro (at before class. Absences will not be excused after the fact except in extreme circumstances. Illness requires a doctor’s note. If you are more than 10 minutes late, you will be marked tardy. Three tardies results in one unexcused absence. Your attendance can be viewed in the attendance spreadsheet. Any disputes should be discussed with me or Alvaro within two weeks. 


Grades will be determined with the following % breakdown:

Participation: 15%

Research Presentation: 15%

Midterm: 20%

Final Project: 40%

Final Project Documentation: 10%

Outstanding or exceptional work will receive As, good work will receive Bs, sufficient work that does nothing more than meet requirements will receive Cs.



We understand the classroom as a space for practicing freedom; where one may challenge psychic, social, and cultural borders and create meaningful artistic expressions. To do so we must acknowledge and embrace the different identities and backgrounds we inhabit. This means that we will use preferred pronouns, respect self-identifications, and be mindful of special needs. Disagreement is encouraged and supported, however our differences affect our conceptualization and experience of reality, and it is extremely important to remember that certain gender, race, sex, and class identities are more privileged while others are undermined and marginalized. Consequently, this makes some people feel more protected or vulnerable during debates and discussions. A collaborative effort between the students, TA, and instructor is needed to create a supportive learning environment. While everyone should feel free to experiment creatively and conceptually, if a class member points out that something you have said or shared with the group is offensive, avoid being defensive; instead approach the discussion as a valuable opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another. Alternatively if you feel that something said in discussion or included in a piece of work is harmful, you are encouraged to speak with the instructor or TA. *Statement adopted from voidLab at: https:// 


UCLA strives to make all learning experiences as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience academic barriers based on a disability, please let me know as soon as possible. It is necessary for you to register with the UCLA Center for Accessible Education so that we can establish reasonable accommodations. After registration, make arrangements with me to discuss how to implement these accommodations. When possible, students should contact the CAE within the first two weeks of the term as reasonable notice is needed to coordinate accommodations. 


UCLA prohibits gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. If you have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence, there are a variety of resources to assist you. 


You can receive confidential support and advocacy at the CARE Advocacy Office for Sexual and Gender Based Violence, 1st Floor Wooden Center West,, (310) 206-2465. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) also provides confidential counseling to all students and can be reached 24/7 at (310) 825-0768. 


You can also report sexual violence or sexual harassment directly to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, 2241 Murphy Hall,, (310) 206-3417. Reports to law enforcement can be made to UCPD at (310) 825-1491. These offices may be required to pursue an official investigation. 

Faculty and TAs are required under the UC Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment to inform the Title IX Coordinator—A NON-CONFIDENTIAL RESOURCE—should they become aware that you or any other student has experienced sexual violence or sexual harassment. 


UCLA is renowned for academic excellence, and yet we know that many students feel overwhelmed at times by demands to succeed academically, socially and personally. Our campus community is committed to helping all students thrive, learn to cope with stress, and build resilience. Remember, self-care is a skill that is critical to your long-term success. Here are some of the many resources available at UCLA to support you: 

  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): Provides counseling and other psychological/mental health services to students. Walk-in hours are Monday-Thursday 8am-4:30pm and Friday 9am-4:30pm in John Wooden Center West. Crisis counseling is also available 24 hours/day at (310) 825-0768. 
  • Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center: Provides high quality and accessible ambulatory healthcare and education by caring professionals to support the academic success and personal development of all UCLA students. 
  • Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI): Provides links to a wide variety of resources for enhancing physical and psychological well-being, positive social interactions, healthy sleep, healthy eating, healthy physical activity and more. 
  • Campus and Student Resilience: Provides programs to promote resilience and trains students to help support their peers. 
  • UCLA Recreation: Offers a broad array of services and programs including fitness, yoga, dance, martial arts, meditation, sports, and much more. 
  • Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Committed to providing an equal learning, working and living environment at UCLA and supports a range of programs to promote these goals campus-wide. 
  • UCLA GRIT Coaching Program: GRIT stands for Guidance, Resilience, Integrity and Transformation. In this program, UCLA students receive individualized support from trained peer coaches to manage stress, foster positive social connections, set goals, and navigate campus resources. 


  • Economic Crisis Response: provides support and guidance to students who have self-identified, or are identified by UCLA faculty or staff, as experiencing a financial crisis that impacts their academic success at UCLA. 
  • Bruin Shelter: provides a safe, supportive environment for fellow college students experiencing homelessness by fostering a collaborative effort between universities, community-based organizations, and service providers. 
  • The CPO Food Closet: provides free food for any UCLA student who may be experiencing hunger and/or struggling to attain food due to financial hardships.