Volume 12, Number 2, 2003

Connections to the Colleges

Embracing America's Diversity

Handbook focuses on values of teamwork, respect and neighborliness

Lost in the political debates and court battles over affirmative action and "reverse discrimination," James Newton says, is the fact that most Americans simply want respect at work and in their communities.

"While we talk about legislation and litigation, it's everyday respect that's important to people," according to the professor in the Black American Studies Program, who has written a guidebook called The Principles of Diversity: Handbook for a Diversity-Friendly America. "We all learn as young children how to be a good neighbor and treat people with consideration, and it's that American spirit of neighborliness that we need to rekindle as adults."

Newton's handbook, published in December by Vantage Press, is intended as a practical resource for businesses, schools, churches and other institutions. It covers a variety of topics, including attitude, bias, character, cultural differences, education, fairness, history, justice and individuality. Additional topics include prejudice, having an open mind, respect for others, tolerance and adapting to the challenges of living and working with others in a multicultural world.

"We have to look at diversity in the broadest possible terms so that we can embrace all of humanity," Newton says. "You can embrace your own culture and also appreciate the American ideal of liberty and justice for all. People brought their different cultures here to form our country, and they gave us all they had to offer."

Newton says the idea of writing the handbook resulted from his speaking engagements and participation at conferences. On such occasions, he says, individuals often approached him to ask for more information on some of the diversity-related issues he had discussed. Then, when a former student requested a copy of his spoken remarks, Newton began giving serious thought to the idea of writing a handbook on diversity.

"I considered my experiences with this subject and thought about the ways that people in this diverse world can get along," he says. "I thought about the things that each person brings to the table in both a cultural and an ethnic sense."

In his book, Newton suggests using an inclusive approach to diversity issues, one that looks for the common ground and draws upon a fundamental part of the American work ethic--teamwork and cooperation.

"Taking pride in your work and working together as a team are very important," he says. "Corporations are keen on becoming institutions that are diversity friendly."

While salary is an important item that workers consider when choosing an employer, many feel that it is equally important to be part of a workplace where tolerance is company policy, according to Newton. "All people want to be accepted as human beings," he says. "When acceptance is not possible, tolerance is acceptable. You learn to respect each other's differences and move forward."

He adds that while society may create rules through legislation, there still are things that people need to work out among themselves, not because of a legal mandate but because of a basic sense of fairness toward other human beings.

Newton says his book is being used by educators and in corporate diversity training programs. He's optimistic about the future, he says, because he sees a cultural shift in favor of diversity, "not for diversity's sake but for the sake of the nation."

A graduate of North Carolina Central University, Newton earned a master's degree in fine arts from the University of North Carolina and a doctorate from Illinois State University.

He also is the author of A Curriculum Evaluation on Student Knowledge of Afro-American Life and History and co-editor of The Other Slaves: Mechanics, Artisans and Craftsmen, as well as numerous articles.

--Jerry Rhodes, AS '03

A pledge for the multicultural workplace

“I pledge my commitment to the development of a diversity-friendly American workplace. As a member of the workforce, I will treat all co-workers with dignity and respect. To fulfill this commitment:

“I am prepared to participate with a cooperative spirit in all tasks essential to mutual progress and the common good;

“I am prepared to discourage bias, prejudice and bigotry;

“I am prepared to enhance my knowledge and understanding of others in the workforce regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual preference, age, gender or physical condition;

“I am prepared to engage in open communications with others on job-related matters;

“I am prepared to reject undesirable myths and stereotypes about various ethnic groups and their members;

“I am prepared to observe the elements of fairness in my daily duties and routine activities with co-workers; and

“I am prepared to become a diversity-tolerant member of the workforce.

“I further pledge to be otherwise guided in my decision-making by sound judgment and reason, not given to preferential treatment and upheld by the democratic ideal ‘with liberty and justice for all.’”

Source: The Principles of Diversity