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Building a Culture of Allyship: A 6-week Virtual Summer DEIB Training Program


Lesley Curtis, Ph.D.'11 (Romance Studies) and Cord Whitaker, Ph.D.'09 (English)

Building a Culture of Allyship: A 6-week virtual summer DEIB training program. Text superimposed over picture of Duke Gardens red bridge

Building a culture of allyship is a central focus of our cultural moment. But what does allyship really look like? How can we feel more confident and be more effective when challenging racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination? This six-week virtual summer program, facilitated by Duke alumni Lesley Curtis, Ph.D.’11 (Romance Studies) and Cord J. Whitaker, Ph.D.’09 (English), offers you a way to increase your awareness and build your confidence when fostering equitable culture change.

As a participant in this program, you will learn to harness your talents as researchers, literary analysts, writers, and cultural theorists in order to rewrite old narratives and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lesley and Cord are humanists, facilitators, educators, and consultants. Through the consulting firm Sagely, they have developed a trauma-informed approach to DEIB based on the close relationship between narrative and neuroscience. Using case studies, self-reflection practices, and interviews with leading DEI professionals, this program meets you where you are, helping you:

  • develop a fuller understanding of your roles in your organizations
  • shape your agency within diversity and inclusion efforts
  • integrate inclusive techniques in your teaching, learning, and research

Our relationships to narratives—the ones we tell ourselves and the ones we tell the world—are essential to allyship. This program helps you write the stories that will facilitate fulfilling careers—and lives.

We will meet virtually every Wednesday from 1:00 to 2:30 pm ET from July 12 through August 16. Duke Graduate School students who complete the entire program are eligible to receive RCR credit for GS715.01.


Lesley Curtis, PhD

Lesley Curtis (she/her) is the owner and founder of Sagely. She holds a doctorate in Romance Studies from Duke University, where she focused on storytelling and social justice movements in the Francophone Caribbean. She is particularly interested in helping clients heal from the impact of intergenerational trauma by rewriting their stories of what’s possible in honor of past lessons learned.

Her clients include people in the fields of education, community development, nonprofit management, cybersecurity, technology, and many more. She also offers workshops and talks to top companies, DEI professionals, and is a Visiting Instructor in Leadership, Innovation, and Management at UNC Chapel Hill.

Lesley has a unique perspective on DEIB work because she combines her humanities expertise with her study of psychology and meditation. She relies on the close relationship between narrative and neuroscience to help clients effect change and she is writing a book on the topic titled Healing Allyship. Her belief in the power of interdisciplinary collaboration led her to found the Fireseed Collective, a group of DEI professionals who offer a neuro-narrative approach to change.

Cord Whitaker, PhD

Cord J. Whitaker (he/him) is a scholar and professor of the history of race. He has a doctorate in English from Duke University. He has published on race in numerous scholarly publications and he and his work have appeared in such venues as NPR, The New York Times, Slate, and the History Channel. Through his writing, teaching, and peer-to-peer mentorship, he has advanced the study of race in fields where it was long thought irrelevant, including his primary field of medieval studies. He is an associate professor of English at Wellesley College, the author of Black Metaphors: How Modern Racism Emerged from Medieval Race-Thinking, and Chair of Wellesley’s Presidential Commission on Ethnicity, Race, and Equity. 

Cord’s work in the history of race engages modern politics, too. He founded and served as editor-in-chief for The Spoke, the blog of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Institute for Global Affairs. He is currently at work on a scholarly book about Black Americans’ uses of the European Middle Ages to agitate for racial equity in the modern U.S. and a trade book on the intersections of fascism and racism and how Black Americans’ sophisticated antiracist strategies can be taken up by those resisting the global rise of fascism.

Cord partners with Sagely to guide clients in learning designed for behavior change. In addition to two decades of experience in the classroom, he also brings knowledge gained from his work in university administration. Cord has a special passion for helping leaders of color bring their full experience to their work in a way that benefits all.

Application Instructions

Due to a limited capacity of up to 25 participants, priority enrollment will be offered to Duke Graduate School students (Ph.D., A.M., M.S., M.F.A., and M.A.T. degrees) and 2022 and 2023 alumni as well as postdocs. Applicants from other schools and organizations will be included on a first-come, first-served basis for any remaining participant spaces. Application deadline: Friday, July 7, 5:00 pm ET

Only applicants who agree to attend all program sessions can be considered. Required session dates (all virtual, all Eastern Time):

  • Wednesday, July 12, 1:00 to 2:30 pm
  • Wednesday, July 19, 1:00 to 2:30 pm
  • Wednesday, July 26, 1:00 to 2:30 pm
  • Wednesday, August 2, 1:00 to 2:30 pm
  • Wednesday, August 9, 1:00 to 2:30 pm
  • Wednesday, August 16, 1:00 to 2:30 pm

Before you begin the application survey, prepare a brief answer to the question, "Why does building a culture of allyship matter to you?" (up to 250 words).


Communication, Core Competencies, Open to Alumni Attendees, Professional Development, Self Awareness