Sociology professor brings Icelandic perspective

Kayla McLane

On the second floor of Jamrich Hall lies a nearly empty office with almost naked walls and a perfectly neat desk. Multi-color crayon drawings decorate a small portion of the wall behind a charismatic slim figure lounging in an office chair, dressed casually in a red and blue flannel shirt and sneakers.

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Iceland native, Guðmundur Ævar Oddsson, Ph.D., known as Gummi, teaches sociology at Northern Michigan University. He once played in a semi-pro basketball league in Iceland, speaks fluent English, which he began learning at 9-years-old, and is adored by his students.

Oddsson uses his Icelandic background to teach about American society. Oddsson studies social inequality, and because the United States is such an unequal society, the country attracts sociologists to study various related issues, he said.

“Excessive inequality is such a contradiction here in this country that is founded on the ideas of equality, but then again that’s what animates a sociologist, it’s the discrepancy between our ideals and the reality we live in,” he said. “Sometimes I say I’m in the belly of the beast.”

Oddsson, 37, who moved to the United States Aug. 3, 2007, received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri in 2014 before moving to Marquette the same year. Although he knew little about Missouri, he did know the only other Icelander who received a Ph.D. in sociology at that university.

“It’s a small world,” Oddsson laughed. Oddsson and his wife, Hrafnhildur Reykjalín Vigfúsdóttir, who goes by Habby, have three sons, Jakob, 13, Oddur, 7, and Arni, 3. Oddsson met his wife in Iceland on Dec. 29, 2005, a date he easily remembered.

Oddsson and Habby speak only Icelandic at home with their three sons. Because their boys have grown up in American culture, Oddsson and his wife want to keep their Icelandic roots alive. The language transition from English to Icelandic is sometimes difficult when the boys come home after school where they speak English for 6-7 hours, he said.

“Of course if they bring a friend over, we don’t speak Icelandic in front of the friends,” Oddsson chuckled. Oddsson is a genuinely kind person and carries a big smile framed by a slightly graying beard. His passion for sociology is apparent in his classroom where he uses real-life examples to better explain sociology, said Jamie Alberta, a junior graphic communications major and student in “Intro to Sociology.”

“A lot of professors go by the book, but Gummi [Oddsson] gives his extra effort to be able to relate it back to real life,” Alberta said. Oddsson considers himself to have shortcomings in the realm of cooking. Although he contributes to housework, he falls short when it comes to the kitchen, he said.

“When I try my hand [at cooking], my friend ‘Betty Crocker’ and her friends usually come to the rescue,” he laughed. Looking forward, Oddsson doesn’t plan on leaving Marquette soon. His family loves the area and is working to receive permanent residency in Marquette, he said.

As a foreigner, he has experienced some prejudice, but has the privilege to ignore it, he said. “I had a neighbor [in Missouri] who refused to talk with us or interact with us because we are foreigners. It was strange because he was living literally across the street from us. We would yell good morning across the street and he would just scoff,” Oddsson said.