Human Geographer

Illustration of Lynn Staeheli by Randy Glass

For a high school project, Lynn Staeheli ’83 MS EMS labeled a school water fountain with “men’s only” and “women’s only” to see who would drink from each. It got her in trouble with the school, says Staeheli’s son, Dan Blair, but it hinted at Staeheli’s early leaning toward social justice and equality, causes she committed to in her distinguished academic work as a human geographer, studying human activity and organizations within and across locations. 

As a leader for women in a male-dominated field, she advocated for marginalized people worldwide. That included frequent travel to places torn by civil war, such as Cyprus, Beirut, Lebanon, and South Africa. She spearheaded the YouCitizen project, which supports the development of youth citizenship to heal divided societies. In Cyprus, she helped young activists conduct video interviews about their experiences to build understanding of what citizenship means to improve their future. She liked working with young people “because they stood to benefit from the change she was seeking,” Blair says.

She served as director of the University of Arizona’s School of Geography, Development & Environment, where she was known for her commitment to mentoring students and young academics. “She was always supportive,” says Mark Kear, an assistant professor in the department. “She wanted to talk to me about my work and tell me about hers. We were not equals as scholars, or certainly in the department or university, but she made me feel like I was valued.” 

Before coming to Arizona, Staeheli was a professor at the University of Colorado, then worked in the U.K. at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Durham. She died Dec. 20, 2020, at age 60 in Tucson, Ariz. Besides Dan, Staeheli is survived by son Topher, husband Nel Caine, and four siblings. —Meri-Jo Borzilleri