By MARTY LEVINE
When Rodney A. Valandra arrived as director of Student Counseling Services at Pitt–Bradford nearly a year ago, he discovered that three semesters of remote classes had created an issue for some students that he sums up simply as “life adjustment.”
COVID-enforced seclusion had left some of the newer students “really isolated, and decreased the social connections,” he said. They hadn’t been given the time and experience to adjust from high school to early adulthood, which left them without needed lessons in conflict resolution and relationship building, for instance. They needed counseling services for “learning to deal with life changes,” he said.
Valandra has studied life adjustments of an entirely different sort before coming to Pitt. He is a Sicangu Lakota who grew up in the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and today he lives in Salamanca, N.Y., on the Seneca Nation’s reservation near Bradford, since his wife and her children are members of that tribe.
As part of his career as a mental health counselor, he has done research on historic multi-generational trauma, particularly among Native people, concentrating especially on natural healing and spirituality. His grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles all were forced into boarding schools in this country, he says — a program begun in 1860 to forcibly assimilate Native Americans into white culture, and which ended only in 1978.
He has been through changes himself in recent years, which of course were much less traumatic but came quickly: teaching at Northern Kentucky University as director of its counseling services, with a dual specialty in addiction, then teaching in a New York college, while working with hospital and mental health agencies in several areas and, all the while, running his own private counseling practice. That practice remains active today, albeit smaller and with patients exclusively online.
Bradford’s counseling center is also small, with one other therapist and an intern, Valandra said. This year his office is “looking to improve our presence on campus,” he added.
He enjoys Bradford’s rural location among the mountains and national forest but says he is aware of the difference in diversity between the town and students, and the differences in attitudes this may engender.
“I know that there are racial issues and struggles here and I know that’s what a lot of us are working on,” he says. Most students on campus aren’t local but are instead from around the country or the world, and 45 percent of the students are something other than white or straight or other things that may make their lives and experiences different from natives of Bradford.
“The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford has been supportive to me, to mental health, to the community, and to address such issues with its students,” he said, “and I like its connection to the other regionals and to Oakland,” with whom he speaks regularly, sharing ideas.
Valandra is well travelled — for one, he spent three years in Japan with the Air Force in the 1980s — and labels himself “a museum nerd” who loves reading nonfiction, particularly history. He has taken time in recent years, he said, to do some Native work, making traditional rattles out of horns, as well as dreamcatchers.
“I always want to learn — I never want to stop,” he said. “It’s exciting for me to be back in academia, on the other side” from classroom instruction alone. “It feels like a good meld.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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