The Interview USA
Stockton University
Vice President for Student Affairs

Christopher Catching

Education is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about shaping a culture of success. This is at the heart of the work done by Christopher Catching, Vice President for Student Affairs at Stockton University, who has used his experience as a first-generation college student to help the next generation of students to prosper. 

Christopher sat down with Kitty Hadaway, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss the importance of cultural competence in creating an inclusive environment, navigating the issue of free speech, and ensuring student safety on campus. 

Christopher's Journey

Kitty: Let’s start with an introduction to your current role and institution.

I’m the Vice President for Student Affairs at Stockton University in New Jersey. We’re about one hour southeast of Philadelphia and two hours away from New York. 

Kitty: So what brought you to student affairs?

My experience as a first-generation college student. I got access to Higher Education through the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program at Montclair State University. For the last 50 years, the EOF has been helping first-generation and working-class students to access college and university. Two questions have followed me throughout my career. Firstly, why aren’t there more students from backgrounds like mine? And second, why aren’t those students staying in college and finishing their degrees? It made me interested in helping students on a foundational level. At first, I didn’t aspire to get involved in student affairs, but during my journey, I worked with many inspirational people, some of whom looked like me. They showed me it was possible — it just shows how important representation really is.  

Kitty: I’d love to hear more about your work in success leadership. I understand that’s been a major focus of your career.

I get to work with tremendous colleagues and students to help shape a culture of success. To me, success leadership means thinking strategically about the resources available to students, the types of educators we need to recruit, the availability of learning opportunities, and the need for financial investment. We work with many other departments: academic affairs, environmental management, strategic planning, and more. The importance of facilities is very underrated: they help shape the environment where students learn. 

Kitty: On The Interview, we’ve been discussing the need for cultural competence to foster a welcoming atmosphere on campus. What initiatives have you been taking to address this?

We’re trying to ensure we’re providing the types of programs and learning opportunities to bring students from different backgrounds together in the same space. Before you can have conversations about issues like diversity or social justice, you need to have that proximity. New Jersey is a highly diverse state, and 98% of our students are from here. But most of our students come from communities where all their neighbors are from the same demographic backgrounds, so we have an immediate opportunity to build those bridges. We can leverage that diversity and the learned experience of students to build that cultural competence. About two weeks ago, we opened a new multicultural center, giving us another asset to help build an inclusive environment. We’re trying to build a holistic approach, exposing students to new ideas, connecting them with educators, and building an environment conducive to sharing experiences. 

Kitty: Freedom of speech has become a hot-button issue on campuses. When they come to college, students are exposed to opposing ideas, which can be challenging. How can we encourage students to discuss these ideas openly?
We try to center our discussion around citizenship: what it means to be a member of a community. It’s important to remember that freedom of speech extends to things you don’t necessarily agree with. 

It’s about consistently educating students about free speech. We need to inform them of their constitutional rights, but also remind them to exercise those rights responsibly. Not all students understand that even if speech is protected, it can still be harmful to others and have a real impact. We try to center our discussion around citizenship: what it means to be a member of a community. It’s important to remember that freedom of speech extends to things you don’t necessarily agree with. 

Kitty: The pandemic put a spotlight on the issue of student safety. How can we ensure a safe and inclusive environment for students?

We look at it from a number of different vantage points. Physical safety is our number one priority. We have to create a safe and healthy environment for all students and community members. We work closely with public safety officers on campus: they are law enforcement officers and educators simultaneously, giving them a unique perspective. There are many issues we need to educate students about: sexual assault, interpersonal violence, alcohol and drugs. We also need to respond, providing resources and support to students affected by those issues. Then there’s the question of whether students feel safe — and that’s more of a moving target. We’re trying to do a lot of work around mental health, educating students, and providing a continuum of support from clinical services to pastoral support. 

Kitty: Many leaders are reporting that student engagement is becoming increasingly difficult. Where do you see students engaging the most — and the least?

I think this generation of students prefers to engage online, particularly through social media. So we need to meet them where they are. But post-Covid, I’ve noticed a re-engagement with traditional aspects of student affairs — clubs and societies, athletic events, and classroom experiences. There’s definitely a fear of missing out: students and their families want to get involved with life on campus. But there’s certainly an equity question about who’s getting involved and who’s being left out. Things like experiential learning, high-impact practices, and research internships can help to narrow the equity gaps in student engagement, academic achievement, and postgraduate success. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s encouraging to see students getting involved. 

Quick-fire Question

Kitty: What’s your top tip for engaging students on DEI topics?

Recognizing and acknowledging the lived experiences of students. Their experiences are the curriculum: they establish the context and environment for learning. Everyone should have a chance to share their perspective and have exposure to experiences beyond their own. Students should facilitate each other’s education — that’s the bedrock of everything.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kitty Hadaway
Universities Lead
Kitty is passionate about using technology to create safer and more inclusive campuses, and is an expert on student engagement and delivering training at scale. Get in touch at to learn more.

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