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Meet Leyna Gilleland: Turning College housing into College community

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Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

Leyna Gilleland loved being a resident adviser in college, loved getting involved in campus activities, loved being an orientation leader and tour guide, loved helping to advise student clubs.

So when she learned that everything she really enjoyed about those experiences could become a career in higher education student affairs?

“It’s a chance to use all those leadership soft skills in building a community,” she says.

Gilleland came on board PCA&D this fall as the College’s first Area Coordinator of Student Housing. It’s a job that involves living within the College’s housing communities. There she serves as a resource for the 100-plus PCA&D students who live there. They can count on her for help with all aspects of student housing, from learning how to turn on the stove to creating programming for mental health or arts and culture activities.

Her position is a change for PCA&D, as the College embraces a fuller residential program. This broader charge now enables her to work with student community assistants to build the residential community and shape policies to support students in College housing.

Building a residency program from the ground up

Gilleland, a first-generation college student, graduated in 2016 from Millersville University with a degree in anthropology and two minors in archeology and history. She went on to earn her master’s degree in higher education student affairs from Messiah University, where she worked as a graduate assistant. There she gained experience in Title IX issues, Disability Services, and Housing. Gilleland also has experience working in the summer residency program at Swarthmore College. Additionally, she volunteered to work in Title IX programming at Gwynedd Mercy College near Philadelphia.

The timing for the position, she says, meshes well with her own personal experience. Much like the current first- and second-year students, Gilleland’s own background involves the switch from online learning — in her case, a cyber school high school — to brick-and-mortar in-person learning. Because of Covid restrictions during the past year or so, she says, this is the first time in a long time — or ever — that students have had to navigate living with others who aren’t family members. Part of her responsibility is not only to make that as smooth a transition as possible, but also to make it a chance to test out and expand students’ independent living skills.

That involves being on call 24/7, being completely accessible, while at the same time maintaining boundaries. “I love the informal counseling involved; going into the (four PCA&D housing) communities and working with the student community assistants, and building that community,” says Gilleland, who lives in the PCA&D housing located at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

The new residency program, she says, “emphasizes community, self-advocacy, and independence, and upholding PCA&D community standards.”

This is a transitional year for PCA&D housing, Gilleland notes. “We are building, from the ground up, a residency program that emphasizes community and advocacy, instilling those concepts in students, and working full time with them to achieve those goals.” Housing, she says, “isn’t just transactional,” dealing with questions around leases and housing rules. “It’s an opportunity for holistic development and learning.”

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