The Sexuality, Women, and Gender Project (SWG) was co-founded in Fall 2012 by three professors in the Counseling and Clinical Psychology Department, Drs. Aurelie Athan, Melanie Brewster, and Riddhi Sandil with funding from a Teachers College Provost Investment Grant. Athan, Brewster, and Sandil  originally came together in support of each other's independent efforts on the often marginalized subjects of sexuality, women, and gender.  They were joined by Dr. Gregory Payton (Point Scholar and Lecturer at Teachers College) in 2015. The SWG founders each lead large and active teams of masters- and doctoral-level students in cutting edge research projects to promote the needs of LGBTQ individuals and women. SWG also has an executive advisory board composed of Drs. Tom Rock (Associate Provost) and Marie Miville (Director of the Counseling and Clinical Psychology Department). With the mentorship of this board and the leadership of a Student Director, SWG keeps a pulse on diverse student recruitment, retention, and integration of our mission throughout Teachers College. SWG hopes to spur evolution in our most upheld and foundational theories of sex and gender (and power) in the field of Psychology.  Our logo symbolizes setting blaze to outdated notions, obtaining new life from the old, and most of all inspiring our passion for excellence. 

For more informationswgproject@tc.columbia.edu



Lena Verdeli, Ph.D.
Laura Azzarito, Ph.D.
Sandra Schmidt, Ph.D.


Marie Miville, Ph.D.
Tom Rock, Ed.D. 
Gregory Payton, Ph.D.  


Melissa Brenman is an Ed.M student in Counseling Psychology at TC. Her passion for studying Sexuality, Women, and Gender issues emerged while she was pursuing a B.A. in Philosophy from Wagner College with a double minor in Gender Studies and Psychology. She continued her studies at Fordham University, receiving an M.A. in Ethics with a focus on International Human Rights issues and Gender Politics. Throughout her academic career, Melissa has worked at various LGBTQ centers across New York City, most recently at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center.  Her academic and research interests include LGBTQ issues, feminist philosophy, consent, and applications of Compassion Focused Therapy. It is Melissa’s professional goal to open a Women’s Crisis Center in NYC.  She currently serves as a Research Assistant in the Laboratory for Oppression, Resilience, and Empowerment, also known as identity LORE, under the supervision of Dr. Melanie Brewster and Dr. Riddhi Sandil. She is greatly passionate about expanding LGBTQ and Women’s rights nationally and globally.


SWG was created to envision and implement the next wave of theories and practices to improve well-being for LGBTQ individuals and women. SWG’s mission is to play a vital role in the creation of research initiatives, innovative curriculum, and institutional programming on campus and with partners beyond the Columbia University network. Download our information flyer here.


The goals of SWG are threefold: 

  1. to promote learning through pedagogy 
  2. to provide intensive research mentorship and production 
  3. to apply gender and sexuality theories in practice (e.g., local schools, mental/health facilities, and community organizations)

SWG will work across departments within TC and schools of CU to promote the trans-disciplinary dialogues needed to solve complex, real-world problems: Education, Counseling & Clinical Psychology, Public Health, Gender and Queer Studies, Reproductive Psychiatry, Sociology, and Law among others.


SWG's has organized numerous didactic lectures, events, and colloquia open to students, faculty, and the broader New York City community. We have planned and hosted large, well-attended (200+ people) events including a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague and panel discussion with director, David France, and world-renown HIV scholar, Dr. Perry Halkitis; this event highlighted community enthusiasm for LGBTQ issues. We also hosted Domestic Violence, Gender, and Culture: Shining a Light, which featured specialists in the field of violence against women including Sujata Warrier, Director of the NYC Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence; Jennifer DeCarli, Executive Director Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence; and mental health practitioners from around the city. 

Certificate and Concentration

SWG now offers a NY State Approved masters- and doctoral-level certification programs. Moreover, we actively collaborate with TC departments to integrate sexuality and gender lenses into course offerings, and networking with organizations outside of TC to establish new fieldwork and internship placements (e.g., Sakhi, Seleni, Museum of Motherhood). We also have an established MA concentration in Clinical Psychology and have developed the first graduate level course on transgender issues in NY state, as well as TC’s first permanent course on LGBTQ Issues and Maternal Psychology. 

Looking to the Future

The long-term vision of SWG is to develop a Sexuality, Women, and Gender Center that will generate and disseminate theory as well as attract cutting-edge scholars who will teach new classes, lead workshops, conduct symposia, and engage our students in community-based research and service initiatives. Further, we would like to create scholarship programs and funding opportunities to student scholars invested in furthering the needs of LGBTQ individuals and women. Such initiatives would place Teachers College at the forefront of promoting these critical issues within social justice movements, mental health training, and education.