Diversifying peoples

If you like to spend time leisurely browsing through items at an auction, you might run into Napoleon Peoples, director of VCU’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Although Peoples’ hobby doesn’t take place at the university, it still involves the process of obtaining knowledge. He said the auctions allow him to relax and develop expertise in many things.

“(I can) increase my knowledge of understanding in certain areas,” he said.

Peoples said he has learned about such items as oriental rugs, paintings and furniture. While he enjoys collecting African-American memorabilia from the civil rights era he often leaves an auction without purchasing anything.

Similar to his favorite pastime, Peoples’ life contains cultural experiences such as his hometown in Pennsylvania, which allowed him to learn about people from different cultures.

“The environment I grew up in was more multi-ethnic,” he said.

At the very beginning of his career, Peoples said he knew he wanted to work with a diverse group of people. He credits his doctoral adviser at Kent State University, Milton E. Wilson Jr., with teaching him a lot about people, research and dealing with people with cultural and physical differences.

“He helped cultivate my knowledge base in terms of looking at multicultural interactions,” Peoples said.

After earning his doctorate in psychology, Peoples began work at VCU’s Counseling Services. During his 28 years of service there, Peoples coordinated its stress management program and its medical campus office as well as serving as senior staff counselor.

In addition he coordinated the center’s multicultural training program.

Nonetheless, Peoples’ interest in cultural diversity peaked, he said, when he took the position of director of the University Career Center.

Monyette Martin, the assistant director who worked with Peoples at the center, said he worked very hard to promote the program.

“(He) has the ability to see or have a vision and put that into place,” she said, adding that Peoples is very professional and always willing to listen.

Peoples said most of his work dealt with cross-cultural communications and transracial interactions. When L. Victor Collins left OMSA to become dean of students at the University of Tennessee, Peoples was appointed interim director. When the position of director became available he applied, which he said only seemed natural and logical.

OMSA’s activities include men and women of color discussion groups, a taste of culture series and brown bag luncheons. Peoples said the office will soon add cultural excursions and an ethnic/cultural art gallery.

“(We have) a blend of social and educational programs where all students can feel comfortable coming to learn about or interact with cultures different from their own,” Peoples said.

An upcoming partnership between OMSA and the James Branch Cabell Library is something Peoples said he is also excited about. Reading materials and videos related to ethnic and cultural issues, he said, will be housed in the office for students and faculty to use.

“I want to build in a research component to OMSA,” Peoples said.

Peoples, who has taught classes dealing with personality and behavior of the African-American, said he has worked to promote cultural diversity because it is the right thing to do, not for the recognition.

“It’s more than a job and I have fun in what I’m doing,” he said.

While conflict among the different races on campus may not be obvious to all students, Peoples said his office still remains important. He said students need to learn to communicate more effectively because a college campus is the best lab for learning about differences. The biggest challenge at VCU, he said, is getting students to interact in new and different ways.

Regardless of the university’s shortcomings, however Peoples said his ideal college environment would resemble VCU.

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