Outdoor classroom constructed in remembrance of Joel Olson
By Deanna Burrell
On Aug. 22, Northern Arizona University (NAU) students, faculty and members of the community gathered in rememberance of political science teacher Joel Olson through the construction of an outdoor class room.
Earlier this spring, the sudden death of Olson while he was spending a semester abroad teaching at University of Alicante in Spain rocked the NAU community. He gave a lecture at the University of Nottingham in Nottingham, England on March 28 and died in Britain on his journey back to Spain.
Saturday was a day of remembrance and the celebration of Olson’s life with creating an outside classroom in his honor between the Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) Building and SBS West.
“This is a small remembrance of an amazing scholar, friend and father,” said Luis Fernandez, NAU faculty member and close friend to Olson.
There were over 50 people in attendance this past Saturday, including faculty members, friends, students and family to help assemble benches, pull weeds, till the ground and plant flowers and trees. The outdoor classroom is one of many ways NAU is keeping alive the memory of Olson.
This is also the first year of the Olson Scholars, consisting of first-year, first generation students who were chosen based on their academics. There is also to be a conference on the NAU campus in January 2013 to recognize Olson’s works.
“Joel was a race scholar and devoted his entire being to making sure that there was no more exploitation of people of color,” Fernandez said.
The continued building of the outdoor classroom will be an ongoing project for the next year, where first-year students enrolled in sustainability classes will be adding various plants to the area.
When asked what this outdoor classroom meant to her, Joyce Olson, Olson’s stepmother, replied, “It means that Joel’s memory is going to live on and his children will be able to come here and know how important their dad was.”
When the work was done, Olson’s family gathered around and shared a few words with one another.
Olson’s father thanked NAU and spoke of planning a second date to continue working on the outdoor classroom, although a date has not been set yet.
At the front of the outdoor classroom, there is a plaque mounted on a rock that reads, “What is the most damage I can do, given my biography, abilities, and commitments, to the racial order and rule of capital?” – Joel Olson (1967-2012).