A native New Yorker, Volland received her bachelor's degree from Queens College and completed her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 with a dissertation on the arts in Polynesia.
Volland joined the Wagner faculty as an instructor of anthropology in 1969. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1976 and full professor in 1987. She was instrumental in establishing an anthropology major at Wagner College. After her retirement in 2005, the Anita Volland Anthropology Award for excellence in the study of anthropology by a graduating senior was named in her honor.
Her lifelong passion for dance led her to study first the hula, then flamenco dancers, before settling upon gypsies, which became her specialty. She was co-editor of One Hundred Years of Gypsy Studies, published in 1990 by the Gypsy Lore Society.
“Her lectures and conversations were filled with fond anecdotes of her travels in Spain, her pilgrimages to Assisi, and of course the rituals she studied,” said Miles Groth, professor of psychology. She was “a teacher of the best sort — erudite in her field, expecting the best of her students, and embodying the tradition of a community of scholars.”