Diversity office head outlines strategy
When Jorge Schement went to a conference hosted by the Big Ten last fall, he sat with officials from other universities and told them he was keen to learn from them. They replied, “We thought you came to teach us.”
Schement, vice president for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Rutgers, realized at that moment that the fellow participants of the conference meant teaching about Rutgers’ diversity.
Schement, who assumed his position on July 1, 2013 when the Institutional Diversity and Inclusion office was founded, highlighted the University’s diversity at the Rutgers University Student Assembly meeting held last night at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus.
He said the definition of diversity at Rutgers comes from its community. The single most common feature that all students, staff and faculty at the University mention about Rutgers is its diversity.
“You give us our definition of diversity,” he said. “You come to us with your definition of who you are and over time, [you] change us.”
He said the concept of a social contract is new at Rutgers. This social contract accepts students for who they are and gives them an equal opportunity to speak up and share their ideas.
Schement comes from an immigrant Mexican family and learned English as a second language, he said in an interview with The Daily Targum. His personal background played a fundamental role in promoting diversity as a professional.
With having spending paramount time at Rutgers from 1987 to 1996 and again from 2008 to present date, Schement said he has seen the University undergo a major change in all forms, particularly diversity.
“[The change in diversity] was dramatic. It was like it happened in one flash, like it’s a different place in just one flash,” he said. “From my experience, I have more occasions to speak Spanish than I did in the early ‘80s.”
The Institutional Diversity and Inclusion office, which came as an outgrowth of the Office of Diversity and Equity on campus, has various units that aim to advocate diversity at levels ranging from undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and faculty.
Delia Pitts, associate vice president for the office, said these units included committees like SciWomen that focuses on the advancement of women in the fields of Science, Technology and Engineering.
Other units include the Center for Race and Ethnicity that explores the relationship between academics and people from different races and ethnicities, Pitts said.
Schement said in spite of having a status as a leader in diversity, the challenges of recruiting a more diverse faculty stands before the University and subgroups in the office work specifically toward the achievement of this goal.
“We are recognized as leaders, but leaders have an obligation to lead to greater accomplishments,” he said. “We do a very good job in this field, but we should always be striving to do better.”
At the meeting, Schement said diversity is not only limited to culture and ethnicity but also includes socioeconomic factors.
“We can’t have diversity without everybody,” he said. “We only have diversity if we are inclusive, if we are fair.”
To this, Justin Habler, a class of 2014 RUSA representative of the College Avenue campus, asked Schement what was being done to provide cost accessibility to those who lack the resources for college education.
The solution to the issue of soaring college education costs is increased participation of state governments, Schement said. A hike in tuition prices compensates for this lack of involvement.
Pitts was excited to hear about the Strategic Plan that was approved at the Board of Governors meeting on Monday, she said. One of the pillars of the 5-year plan is to support and pursue diversity.
Pitts said including the foundational element of diversity in the Strategic Plan reflects its importance in Rutgers’ vision and goals.
It is Rutgers’ privilege to be able to celebrate its rich diversity, but it also must be able to retain its image that sets it apart as a place constituted by the talents and the identity of everyone who comes to the campus, Schement said.
“Rutgers isn’t for some of you — it’s for all of you,” he said. “If you want to see the future of United States, all you have to do is walk down College Avenue.”