When she arrived at UW-Eau Claire more than 30 years ago, Rose-Marie Avin, a native of Haiti, knew her life was going to be transformed. What she may not have known is that she would spend three decades transforming the lives of others and the cultural climate of campus — all for the better.
On Feb. 6 at UW-Eau Claire’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Avin was presented with the university’s 2019 MLK Social Justice Award. This award recognizes a campus community member who has demonstrated an exceptional ability to advocate for underserved and underrepresented groups and who leads, organizes and engages the community in the difficult work of equity, diversity and inclusion through their voice, vision and actions.
Avin, professor of economics and director of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, has focused her career efforts on amplifying the voices of women, particularly those living in poverty in the developing world. To that end, a few of her major initiatives and accomplishments include:
• Leading regular immersion and research programs in Nicaragua focusing on the lives and experiences of marginalized women.
• Leading regular immersion programs to Argentina to explore its history, culture and economy.
• Conducting grant-funded research in Vietnam, examining experiences of women entrepreneurs.
• Presenting her research internationally.
• Publishing articles on the lives and experiences of Nicaraguan women.
• Mentoring international students through the Center for International Education.
• Mentoring junior colleagues, especially women of color, who are new to UW-Eau Claire.
• Co-founding the Women’s Empowerment Project in Madison, a 1990s-era project advocating for a change in U.S. policies toward Nicaragua and supporting Nicaraguan women in their quest for gender and economic justice.
Tamara Johnson, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and student affairs, presented the award to Avin, citing multiple examples of her leadership and active involvement with EDI initiatives on campus, her proactive approach to problem solving and her consistent advocacy for students.
“During my relatively brief time at UW-Eau Claire I have already seen firsthand how her leadership helps to advance our institutional diversity efforts and eliminate barriers for the most vulnerable,” Johnson said, adding that on a personal note she has appreciated Avin for her “sound and wise counsel, her calm and affirming presence and her active involvement with EDI.”
Provost Patricia Kleine has been grateful for the strength and duration of Avin’s campus contributions, noting the far-reaching impact her work and immersion programming has had on students from a wide range of majors.
“Rose-Marie Avin is one of the strongest advocates for students at UW-Eau Claire. Her advocacy is readily seen in her work with Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies and American Indian Studies,” Klein said. “Students participating in her various immersion opportunities have been from a wide variety of academic programs, yet widely report the same ‘transformational’ experiences when they return.”