Avin Wins MLK Award

The UWEC professor receives social justice award

More stories from Melanie Walleser


Photo by Elena Dawson

Rose-Marie Avin poses with her award.

Rose-Marie Avin was awarded the UW-Eau Claire’s 2019 MLK Social Justice Award, which was presented by Tamara Johnson, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and student affairs at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Feb. 6.

Avin is a professor of economics and Latin American studies and director of women’s gender and sexuality studies.

Avin said she was approached by Johnson in December. Johnson stated that she was impressed by Avin’s work, loyalty to the university, global initiatives and student advocacy.

“I have come to have tremendous respect for Avin’s contributions to the department and to the university,” said Thomas Kemp, the economics department head at UW-Eau Claire and colleague of Avin’s, said. “She is extremely diligent and hardworking in the pursuit of social justice. Throughout the time I’ve known her, she’s worked tirelessly to that end.”

With tears in her eyes, Avin expressed how grateful she was to receive the award.

“I’m so grateful to Dr. Johnson and Provost Kleine for giving me the award,” Avin said. “That meant a lot to me. I really feel that the university has appreciated all the work that I’ve done.”

Avin said she would never forget that week.

“I was getting emails from Argentina, from Haiti, from New York,” Avin said. “That was very emotional for me to realize that the global community I had created was very proud of me.”

Kemp described Avin’s hard-working nature.

“I think maybe it’s easy at some point for some people to sort of rest on their laurels,” Kemp said. “Rose-Marie does not do that. That’s something that I have a lot of respect for. She probably could take it easy, but she doesn’t. She still works tirelessly for what she believes is the right thing to do.”

“You don’t do work because you think you’ll get an award at the end,” Avin said. “You do the work because it gives you purpose and a lot of joy.”

Starting her career in economics, Avin was hired at UW-Eau Claire to teach Economics of Latin America. However, economics was not her initial field of study at Baruch College-City University of New York. Due to supportive mentors, she stuck with the program.

“I wanted to be a language major, but then I switched to business,” Avin said. “I took econ as a requirement for my business degree and I loved it. I had very strong mentors in economics. The professors were very very supportive of me, so then I switched from business to economics. I think that the mentorship that I received as an undergraduate student was very important in my being successful in economics.”

Avin brought her love of economics to Eau Claire, leaving the department better off, said Avin’s colleague, Dr. Thomas Kemp, professor and economics department chair.

“I am incredibly pleased that Dr. Avin has chosen to make this department her home for most of her career,” said Kemp. “The department is far better off as a result of that and our students are much better off.”

As director of women’s gender and sexuality studies, Avin has also been a great contributor for equity, diversity, and inclusivity initiatives at the university.

“I think she’s doing wonderful work with the WGSS, making it and transforming it in some ways into something that’s more transnational and more varied in its approach,” said Manuel Fernandez, Avin’s coworker in the Latin American studies program. “She’s been a force on the campus for discussions about (equity, diversity and inclusivity). She’s always been very motivated to try new things and that’s an example shes set over the many years.”

Avin believes that EDI initiatives will make people of color feel more welcome at UW-Eau Claire, a campus which she referred to as “overwhelmingly white.” As the first Haitian women to be hired as a professor at the university, this is a mission she holds very close.

“It was a bit concerned coming to Eau Claire because I had never lived in such a white community before,” Avin said. “I wasn’t sure how long I would last, it’s so cold here. My allies here at the university made it easier for me to stay because they received me so warmly.”

Having supportive mentors and welcoming friends is an important factor in her success, Avin said.

“People ask how I survive here, I tell them that is how,” Avin joked, pointing to her coat.

Avin plans to continue mentoring WGSS students and new faculty of color throughout the rest of her career at UW-Eau Claire. Thinking back on her career, Avin stated she would chose Eau Claire again.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would have chosen Eau Claire again.”

Walleser can be reached at [email protected].