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Remembering Professor Elsie Moore

Moore remembered for lifelong dedication to equality and justice, advocating for students and faculty of color


The late ASU Professor Elsie Moore smiling while speaking into a microphone.

Elsie Moore offers opening remarks before U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor begins her conversation in front of a full ASU Gammage auditorium on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, at the 18th John P. Frank Memorial Lecture. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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March 10, 2022

Elsie Moore, a beloved Arizona State University faculty member and pioneer in diversity, equity and inclusion, died on Feb. 21 at the age of 72.

“Elsie shared her grace, intellect and love of learning with every person she encountered,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “She advanced against intellectual and cultural adversaries with wisdom, understanding and love. She made a difference here at ASU and in our broader world, and will be deeply missed.”

When she first came to ASU in 1981, she set out to provide leadership and improve the diversity at the university. Throughout her 40-plus year career at ASU, she accomplished this in a number of roles across the Tempe and West campuses, including as a professor, director, faculty head, vice provost and associate dean at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the School of Social Transformation.

In addition to the formal positions she held at ASU, Moore was actively involved in a number of university committees, including as president of the University Senate, president of the Faculty Women’s Association and as a member of the Senate Personnel Committee and the Academic Affairs Grievance Committee. She was a founding member of the Faculty Women of Color Caucus and served on the women’s studies advisory board for nearly 10 years, helping to establish the program and hire the first director of women and gender studies.

“Elsie was a fierce advocate for positive change. She inspired people in all that she did at ASU and The College. As a mentor, leader, scholar and friend, Elsie leaves behind an incredible legacy. We hope to continue the important work she started,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In the ASU community, Moore was known for her commitment to teaching, mentoring and supporting faculty. Her dedication ensured that countless faculty members were successfully promoted and tenured. As a mentor, Moore served on over 30 dissertation and master’s thesis committees in her areas of specialization. 

She was recognized with numerous awards for excellence throughout her career, including YWCA's Racial Justice Award, the ASU Alumni Teaching Award, the College of Education Undergraduate Teaching Award and the Graduate Student Mentor Award.

Her vast body of research addressed inequities in educational settings and ensured justice and equality for students of color. She studied child development in the context of schools, challenging deficit models and the ways that tests were administered and test scores were used without regard to underlying race, socioeconomic or gender bias. Her research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Moore received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy from Elmhurst College and a master’s degree and PhD in human development with specializations in child development and psychoeducational assessment from the University of Chicago.

Originally from Sussex County, Virginia, Moore moved to the Phoenix area with her husband, Aaron Wade Smith, who was a professor and chair of sociology at ASU. The two met while in graduate school, and married in 1977.

“Through their teaching, research and administration, they made outstanding contributions to the study of race, ethnicity and civil rights,” said Mary Margaret Fonow, professor emeritus and founding director of the School of Social Transformation. “They were a dynamic duo, and their work and lifetime dedication to the success of students and faculty of color had a major impact at ASU.”

After Wade Smith died of cancer in 1994, Moore established the A. Wade Smith Memorial Lecture on Race Relations in his honor. Because Wade Smith devoted his life to the ideal of racial parity, Moore created the lecture to invite the community into discussions about race through lectures with acclaimed academics, activists, journalists and artists. 

Over the lecture’s 25-year history, speakers have included such prominent figures as Mamie Locke, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Danny Glover, Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Leonard Pitts Jr. and Cornel West. 

The lecture will continue in perpetuity and will be led by Moore’s three sons, who strive to continue elevating and improving race relations at ASU and within the greater community.

“For over 25 years, my mother has done a tremendous job at creating a lecture that has opened the hearts and minds of the community like never before. The Smith family looks forward to working with ASU to continue this work and uphold our parents’ legacies," said ​​Arthur Wade Smith, Moore’s son.

In a 2018 interview with YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix, Moore reflected on her life and career, stating that one of her proudest moments was when she graduated from Stony Creek High School in 1968. She was among the first group of Black students that integrated schools in Sussex County. 

“All the work I had done to get to high school, what I had been through, suffered through, but graduated from, integrating that high school,” Moore recounted. “I was reluctant for my mom to come because I didn’t know what she was going to experience at graduation, but my mother was so proud. I realized what an empowering experience it had been for me and that I could do anything. That’s what it taught me.”

Moore is remembered by her family, colleagues, friends and loved ones as compassionate, warm, dedicated and fearless.

Eduardo Obregón Pagán, associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College at ASU and the Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History, worked with Moore in a number of ways, including on the University Senate. In his experiences with Moore, he said that he and his colleagues knew they could depend on her.

“She was a truth teller, which meant that you could always count on her to say what needed to be said, or what others were thinking but didn’t want to say,” Obregón Pagán said. “She was the kind of person who understood the value of stepping up and stepping forward, and leading by example. We need more Elsies in our lives.”

A tribute service for Moore will be held from 5–6:30 p.m on Monday, March 14, in the Secret Garden, West Hall, on the Tempe campus. Faculty, staff and students are welcome to attend. To learn more or to support the A. Wade Smith Memorial Lecture on Race Relations, visit thecollege.asu.edu/wadesmithlecture.

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