Jorge Schement, VP Diversity, Talks to Disability Services
Jorge Schement, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Rutgers University, sat down with the Office of Disability Services and shared his experiences of growing up challenged by language, his disabilities, and diversity. Jorge began by explaining the two wars that shaped his life: the Mexican Revolution, which drove his maternal grandparents to the US circa 1915, and World War II, where his parents met in 1946 at a canteen in a military hospital where his father was stationed.
Jorge moved in with his grandparents in San Antonio, Texas, when he was two, after his parent’s divorce. When he was eight he enrolled in a parochial school where Irish nuns introduced him to English for the first time. It took him eight years to become fluent in English, having only spoken Spanish with his grandparents. He recalled those early years as ‘being impossible.’ He discussed the segregation he felt, the language barrier and being diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He constantly questioned where he belonged. Relief from the struggle came through his passion for reading. He fondly recalled, “one summer when I was in middle school, a couple of friends and I rode our bikes 5 miles to the Josephine Tobin San Antonio Public Library. The librarian picked out my first library book “The Moonstone” by Wilke Collins. I read it twice in two days!”
Jorge moved in with his mother and stepfather while in fifth grade. Despite not having many books in their home, Jorge’s stepdad was interested in understanding what happened to him during WWII. Jorge followed suit and read whatever his stepdad was reading. When his stepfather purchased the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, Jorge read every book from A-Z by November of his senior year of high school. When Jorge left for college, roles reversed and his stepfather started reading from Jorge’s booklist. Even through the all-boys Catholic high school he attended tended to assign Mexican boys to lower tracks, Jorge was one of the few that made it to the top track. After graduation his next-door neighbor, a psychologist, helped Jorge’s stepfather fill out college applications for Jorge. That fall he enrolled in Southern Methodist University. He felt behind in comparison to other students, as if he was in a foreign country. However, he took summer classes at San Antonio Junior College and gained confidence. That next semester he became a Resident Assistant, which paid for college.
Before he could finish college, Jorge was drafted during the Vietnam War, enlisted in the Navy and took the remaining credits as extension courses in order to graduate. Two years later, after military cutbacks he was able to attend the School of Commerce at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where he received his MBA. He remembered meeting a couple from Denmark, the husband, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois. They inspired him to get a doctoral degree. Through the Affirmative Action Program he was able to attend Stanford where he studied under Wilbur Schramm and Everett Rogers at the Institute for Communication Research. He remembered his mentor, Felix Gutierrez, an older Mexican-American student, as the biggest influence on his development. While attending Stanford he participated in a Monday Night Super Group where Latino graduate students shared meals and presented papers. He learned it was beneficial to stand out and fine-tuned his public speaking.
After four years he received his doctoral degree and held a few positions at different Universities in Texas and then California. In 1987 he put himself on the market and became an Associate Professor at Rutgers in the School of Communication and Information and became involved with the Puerto Rican Studies Department to understand the social circumstances of Latinos in the Northeast. In 1996, Jorge left for Penn State where he co-founded the institute of Information Policy. Twelve years later he became the Dean of the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. In 2013 he took over as VP after the expansion of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, the position he currently holds today. Jorge ended the interview proclaiming, “So far, it’s been a great ride!”