Alumni Engagement In 2020: Responding And Reflecting On Social Justice

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Anh Tran, CAAE Jerry F. Tardy Fellow, 2020-2021, provides a summary of her presentation featured at the CAAE Zoom-stitute, held February 11, 2021

Research Topic: Alumni associations serve as entryways and pathways for alumni to begin, continue, and sustain conversations and actions related to social justice. The research is focused on exploring the problem of practice of the lack of social justice virtual programs.

Through analysis and evaluation of social justice virtual programs, recommendations are offered for institutions looking to offer diverse and inclusive alumni programs in a virtual environment.


Phase 1 (October-November 2020): Literature Review of Empirical Research

  • Staff and volunteer affinity leads to deeper engagement (Garvey & Dresner, 2013)
  • Intersectionality is not always captured in engagement efforts for alumni with multiple identities (Vervoot & Gasman, 2016)
  • Segmented data necessary to engage unique talents and dispositions of alumni (Weerts et. al, 2009)

Phase 2 (December 2020): Case Study Analysis

  • Diverse sample of public and private institutions across the US, including the following: UC Berkeley, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, UCLA, Northwestern, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), University of Southern California, Dartmouth University, and Yale University

Phase 3 (January -February 2021): Interviews

  • Follow-up interviews with alumni association staff at 5 universities in study

Research Questions:

  1. What type(s) of online programs focused on social justice do you currently offer your alumni?
  2. Are you able to know how many participants in your online programs engage with the institution in other ways (in-person events, annual giving, mentorship programs, etc.)?
  3. How do you effectively steward these participants in online programs to increase their engagement?
  4. How do you engage alumni, and members of the broader community through programs that aim to address social justice?
  5. What role does the alumni association serve in helping to foster dialogue and understanding?



1. Alumni want virtual spaces for conversation on social justice

  • 60% of participants in study are creating structural changes, including virtual hubs and websites with resources on diversity, inclusion, and equity
  • Conversations are mostly done via webinar with facilitated conversations, and institutions are starting to explore conversations among alumni participants
  • University of Minnesota created a diversity and inclusion virtual hub in response to alumni demand after the murder of George Floyd

2. Alumni want to co-design social justice programs

  • VCU Alumni Richmond Chapter and VCU African American Alumni Council collaborated on social justice panel discussions. Topics highlighted faculty, administrator, and alumni experts on topics such as finance and education
  • Yale Alumni Association provides a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion toolkit for alumni outreach, training, and event facilitation
  • Cal Alumni Association at UC Berkeley hosted a “Who Are We Now?” series for young Black alumni and students to discuss identity. The series was created and led by young alumna, Maria Smith

3. Alumni associations can pilot programs by integrating new ideas within existing events and initiatives

  • Northwestern Alumni Association leveraged the University Alumni Book Club, and launched iN Focus, an additional book club with focus on social justice
  • Michigan Alumni Association leveraged annual MLK Symposium to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion content on the Alumni Education Gateway and amplify existing university communication efforts

4. Alumni associations can curate resources virtually and provide easy access for alumni engagement

  • UCLA has a section dedicated to resources on social justice, some resources created by the alumni association, and others are curated from other sources
  • Live events and conversations are recorded and available on-demand on alumni association website for alumni to view on their own time
  • Event registration data and targeted email communications allow for focused outreach and tracking of attendees for ongoing engagement

Contact Information:

Anh Tran

Chief Program Officer

Cal Alumni Association, UC Berkeley 

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