Designed by Duke Black Alumni (DBA) and the Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS), the Duke Alumni Association helped to host a special, six-part virtual conversation series on race and inequity in America. During this pivotal time in US history, Duke’s world-class faculty helped participants explore topics at the intersection of economics, public policy, government, sociology, culture and more. While this particular series took place in July through August 2020, DBA is currently working with AAAS to finalize several more lectures that will take place during both the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters.

What were the event goals? How did going virtual impact these goals?

The goal of the lecture series was to build community for Duke Black Alumni (DBA) as well as to foster closer connections and “Forever Learning” opportunities with the world’s leading African and African American Studies (AAAS) Department and faculty. A second goal emerged from this program: to provide the opportunity and space to all alumni to learn more about race and inequity.

Going virtual impacted our goals positively because it allowed us to expand upon our audience, both in terms of who participated in the program but also who accessed it at a later time. We did not restrict attendees; many of our alumni requested to invite family, friends, and colleagues, which we welcomed. We also recorded every lecture of the series and made it available as a link in the follow up communication, eventually posting it to the Duke Alumni Lifelong Learning YouTube channel too. Being able to record the lectures has been paramount as it provides access to individuals who were not able to attend for whatever reason (i.e. availability, time zone, etc.) as well as individuals who wanted to review the material again.

Why did you choose this format/model over others?    

We chose a webinar format because it allowed us to monitor and control the audience since the number of registrants was so high. Duke Black Alumni (DBA) and the Department of African & African American Studies (AAAS) had the vision for the lecture series style and all of the specific content. They took the time to carefully think through each topic and secure appropriate faculty member(s) and/or alumni to facilitate the conversation. Each lecture featured the presenters sharing their expertise, followed by a moderated Q&A. The Q&A function was enabled to allow our attendees to engage and submit questions during the program.

How did you measure the success of your virtual event?

Our two primary measures of success for this virtual program were number of registrants and general engagement of participants during the actual program. We had over 3700 different individuals register for at least one lecture within the six part series. Registrants then ranged from 1500-3100 for each individual session. Anecdotally, we have also received innumerable communications from alumni thanking us over the series and sharing how impactful the lectures have been.

  • One alumna located in the Philippines, who consistently joined at 7am (her time) in order to experience the impact of this series firsthand, followed up to state, “Heartfelt gratitude to you for enabling me to attend the Black in 2020: A Virtual Lecture Series in accordance with lifelong learning and for the purpose of reconnecting with our beloved Duke University.” – Graduate School Alumna (Ph.D.) ’70
  • “Thank you for a terrific set of thought-provoking and interesting programs so far. I look forward to the remainder of the series. I’m appreciative of all the effort you have put into planning and executing this series.” – Duke Law Alumnus ’80
  • “Thank you for offering this program. I feel like positive momentum for change exists right now, and I appreciate the opportunity to be better educated to be a part of it.” – Duke Law Alumnus ‘81
  • “Thank you for the vibrant and enlightening discussion by Duke experts on this subject!” – Trinity Alumna ‘10

What was most satisfying about planning and producing this event?

For me, it was seeing the vision of our Duke Black Alumni (DBA) leaders come to fruition and have it be unbelievably purposeful and effective.

What resources, skills, and partners did you use in creating this virtual event?

We are very fortunate that our Duke Black Alumni (DBA) have such strong relationships with our Department of African & African American Studies (AAAS) and Duke’s world-class faculty. Having access to the Department and the faculty is and will continue to be key in making this lecture series successful. We cannot thank our faculty enough for their willingness to share their expertise with our alumni. The other primary resource is our DBA leaders. This series was their vision so without them, this program would not have happened. Of course, we also would be remiss if we did not mention our DAA colleagues who assisted us in the facilitation and promotion of this program including our technical producers, Cvent registration builders, and Marketing & Communications staff.

What did you learn from planning this virtual event?

I have learned a significant amount about Zoom (including the difference between meetings and webinars, which I feel that I have finally mastered, though that’s also thanks to Kim Garcia) as well as how to manage our volunteers in an entirely virtual world, including how to balance their expectations. This has been changed since I, too, am working from home and don’t have as quick of access to other staff members and campus partners as I normally would. Many of our volunteers are also working from home and balancing various commitments. In an effort to make sure that our alumni volunteers are involved in the planning process, we do ask them to complete and submit various documents (ie. Program Proposal, Details for Registration, Run-of-Show) for their programs. These are also meant to be helpful resources to them as they think through all of the logistics for the program.

  • Lifelong Learning Program Proposal Template: When our affinity groups want to host a lifelong learning educational program, they need to submit this form. We typically need to work with our Lifelong Learning team to secure faculty members and need to understand the vision for their thought-out program.
  • Virtual Program Run-of-Show: This document is meant to help them think through the program start to finish, including the layout and all logistics.

What is your next virtual event challenge?

Our next virtual event challenge is continuing to support DBA as they finalize plans for upcoming lectures within the Black in 2020: A Virtual Lecture Series. We want to continue working with our other alumni affinity groups (Duke Asian Alumni Alliance (DAAA), Duke University Hispanic/Latino Alumni Association (DUHLAA), and Duke LGBTQ+ Network) to plan their own virtual programs (hopefully at least one All Call a year) as well as one collaborative program that brings them all together.

We cannot thank these individuals enough for their hard work and dedication, especially our alumni volunteers!

Jessica Emig, Assistant Director for Volunteer Engagement

Clarybel Peguero, Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement

Christina Holder M.Div.’13, Senior Director for Marketing & Communications

La’Shawnda Kendall, Project Manager

Sanders Adu ’94, Duke Black Alumni (DBA) Co-Chair

Tadena Simpson ’05, Duke Black Alumni (DBA) Co-Chair

Harry Jones ’08, A.M.’10, Duke Black Alumni (DBA) Co-Chair Elect

What advice do you have for colleagues planning a similar event?

Plan as far in advance, if possible. The more time that you have, the better. Knowing that time is often limited and turnarounds need to be even quicker (especially in our virtual world), having a detailed, step-by-step plan is extremely helpful. Our team uses Asana to manage all of our projects. We can assign tasks to other staff members as necessary in order to coordinate the event, create the registration, market to our alumni, and ensure that we have everything ready to go. Finally, be sure to take advantage of your resources. There may be staff members on your team who are interested in these opportunities and able to share their time and talents. If they are, take them up on it and delegate tasks as you need to other individuals.



Virtually Yours,


Jessica Emig

Assistant Director for Volunteer Engagement

Duke Alumni Association


P.S. The Black in 2020: A Virtual Lecture Series returns today (Thursday, October 1, 2020) with Election 2020: Black Voices & Perspectives from 7-8:30pm EDT. Feel free to tune in to catch it live! If you are unable to make it, we still encourage you to register so that they receive the recording of the program afterward.

If you would like to see previous recordings of our past events, they’re all available on the event webpage, Black in 2020: A Virtual Lecture Series, as well as our Duke Alumni Lifelong Learning YouTube channel.


Kaitlin Briggs, Editor