By Matthew Biddle
Published July 26, 2023
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has named Diane E. Elze, PhD, associate professor emeritus in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, an NASW Social Work Pioneer, one of the profession’s highest honors.
The NASW Social Work Pioneers® program honors members of the social work profession who have contributed to the profession’s evolution and enrichment. Elze will be inducted as a Pioneer on Oct. 14 in Washington, D.C., alongside other influential social workers, including NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois, who will be posthumously recognized for his impact.
Throughout her 45-year career as a clinician, advocate, educator and researcher, Elze has made enduring contributions in support of LGBTQ+ youth. Elze’s social work practice experience included direct services, administration and community organizing in areas of sexual assault and domestic violence, runaway and homeless youths, HIV prevention and case management, crisis intervention, disability rights advocacy, and community-based services for LGBTQ+ youths.
In Maine, where Elze began her career, she co-founded several queer advocacy and support organizations, including Maine Lesbian Feminists and Outright Portland, the state’s first queer youth support and advocacy group. As a founding board member of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance (now Equality Maine), Elze helped establish the state’s oldest and largest LGBTQ+ political advocacy organization. Through Our Paper, an LGBTQ+ newspaper, Elze and others reported on the growing HIV/AIDS crisis in the early ’80s, providing the community with safer sex education and covering politics affecting LGBTQ+ people.
Elze earned her master’s degree from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and her PhD from Washington University in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, she led an effort to build a more racially diverse, community-based LGBTQ+ youth group, securing grant funding to expand programming and recruiting a diverse group of volunteer advisors.
After shifting into academia, Elze’s research and scholarship focused on the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth, LGBTQ+ human rights, and interprofessional education and collaborative practice.
In 2005, she joined the UB School of Social Work as a faculty member, inspiring a generation of students to pursue their own social work careers and helping to propel the school forward. From 2008-2019, Elze served as the Master of Social Work (MSW) program director and led the school through two successful reaccreditations with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Later, as associate dean for academic affairs, Elze introduced restorative practices into the school and developed a restorative process to support students who had experienced racism or other forms of oppression in their classroom or field placement.
In December, after more than 17 years of dedicated service, Elze retired from the UB School of Social Work.
Elze previously served on the board of GLYS Western New York for 14 years and continues to contribute her expertise and advocacy as a board member for the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition and Lutheran Community Care Services in Singapore, an organization that integrates restorative practices into its service delivery. She also serves on the Erie County Court Improvement Project’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Committee.
For a complete description of Elze’s pioneering contributions, visit the NASW Foundation website.