Three years ago, Dr. Mary Edlow (M.A. ’67), a New York City psychoanalyst and Teachers College alumna, approached TC with a vision for a new kind of sex education aimed at the goal of “every child a wanted child.”
Through the College’s Office of Development, Edlow was introduced to Aurélie M. Athan, then a Lecturer in the Department of Counseling & Clinical Psychology, whose work focused on matrescence — the concept that motherhood (like adolescence and other phases of life) is a distinct period of physical, psychological and emotional development. [Read a story about Athan’s work on reproductive identity formation.]
The result was the Edlow Sex Education Initiative (SEI), a training program for K-12 teachers in New York City who also serve as sex educators in schools. To date, with continuing support from Edlow, the program has undergone ongoing refinement by Athan and her colleague, Riddhi Sandil, Associate Professor of Practice and Director of TC’s M.Ed. program in Mental Health Counseling, whose leadership and rollout of TC’s College Advising program has resulted in the graduation of hundreds of trainees nationally. SEI has trained more than 100 of the city’s middle and high school teachers to help youth explore their “reproductive identity formation” – a new paradigm introduced by Athan to frame questions of if, when and how people want to become parents, and how those goals are influenced by the families they grew up in, the beliefs they hold and their environmental contexts.
The new three-year, $610,000 gift from Mary Edlow creates an umbrella effort called the Edlow Reproductive Literacy Project that ultimately aims to establish reproductive identity formation as a central focus in psychology and public health.
Now, a new three-year, $610,000 gift from Edlow will not only expand SEI, but bring it together with Athan’s research under an umbrella effort called the Edlow Reproductive Literacy Project that ultimately aims to establish reproductive identity formation as a central focus in psychology and public health.
Athan, whose new title is Research Professor, envisions a three-pronged approach for the Edlow Reproductive Literacy Project:
- Training the next generation of professionals in the workforce, an effort that will include continuing improvements to the curriculum, an online training option, the creation of lesson plans for middle and high school teachers, and possibly graduate coursework at TC.
- Disseminating findings through major conferences and academic journals in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, public health and sexual health education.
- Creating an informed and reproductively literate public through media and language that are accessible to all, including those without access to higher education. This work will include creation of a website and the launch of a broader public health campaign that could include opinion pieces and interactive resources.
“Not only did the TC team listen to and understand my ideas, but Aurélie Athan and her team implemented at levels I had not even imagined, much less hoped for,” Edlow says. “With the hope for both a new field of study and for a ripple effect on future generations, my dream is being brought to fruition.” [Read a personal statement by Mary Edlow about her vision and her collaboration with Teachers College.]
The new website will also house a data collection portal for visitors to use a self-assessment tool or contribute narrative accounts of their own reproductive identity development.
It’s so important that we reach the general public with this work through channels that are not locked in the ivory tower. I’m so grateful to Mary Edlow for her broad vision, her support, and her passionate commitment to this work.
These personal stories will be analyzed and findings will be used to create a psychological measure of reproductive identity. Sex educators, psychologists and other professionals can eventually use it to help bring awareness to people's intentions and help them set their own goals around becoming parents.
“It’s so important that we reach the general public with this work through channels that are not locked in the ivory tower,” says Athan. “I’m so grateful to Mary Edlow for her broad vision, her support, and her passionate commitment to this work.”
“Implementing My Dream”
Alumna Dr. Mary Edlow (M.A. ’67) describes the journey that led her to fund the new Edlow Reproductive Literacy Project at Teachers College
My commitment to children, parenting issues and bringing along the next generation began in 1967, over 50 years ago, during a master’s program at Teachers College when I was assigned as a student teacher to the Agnes Russell School. This experience closely related to my commitment to the well-being of children and reinforced the importance of early childhood development. I then went on to become a social worker in Maternal/Child Health at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, where my interest in reproductive choices and parenting issues became even more crystallized. After training as a psychoanalyst, writing a dissertation on adolescent pregnancy, teaching the psychoanalytic theory of early childhood development, and years of clinical practice, I have become even more aware of the significance of intentional parenting and the importance of helping parents to nurture their children. Such a goal will impact on the emotional and physical health of our children and on their ability to reach their full potential in life, especially now during the challenging times that are facing all of us.
My love of children and the goal that they have happier childhoods and have a better chance to dream, to fulfill their wishes and to reach their potential in life is being brought to fruition.
—Dr. Mary Edlow (M.A. '67)
Three years ago, with the help of the development team at TC, it was my good fortune to be introduced to Dr Aurélie Athan, a faculty member at TC, a clinical psychologist and a researcher, who truly listened to, understood and implemented my dream of focusing on the role of parenthood in a way it never had been before. Our initial focus was on a Sex Education Program with a component on intentional parenting to be taught in every New York City public school. This program has now expanded from teen pregnancy prevention and intentional parenting to a national, public health model with an online platform that is informed by a new psychological concept, Reproductive Identity. A paper, entitled “Reproductive Identity: An Emerging Concept,” by Dr. Aurélie Athan has already been published in American Psychologist. Thus, this reproductive health initiative has expanded from a teacher training program focused on Reproductive Identity Formation (RIF) to a public health model with a national, online presence. Reproductive Identity Formation, a professional development program, a burgeoning research base in journals and public health resources, have all been created. The potential for a new field of study to come from this is the greatest hope.
[Read a story on Athan’s work on reproductive identity formation. Read a story on Mary Edlow’s latest gift to Teachers College, establishing the Edlow Reproductive Literacy Project, led by Athan.]
Not only did the TC team listen to and understand my ideas, but Aurélie Athan and her team implemented at levels I had not even imagined, much less hoped for. This re-thinking and re-planning of parenthood and the importance of being prepared for the role, especially given these challenging times, has been a 50-year project in the making. The dedication, hard work, and commitment of Dr. Aurélie Athan and her colleague, Dr. Riddhi Sandil, a licensed counseling psychologist, have been inspirational.
When parents feel more prepared, then their children will have a greater chance of being seen, understood, and responded to in healthy ways. The children will experience a more secure psychosocial development and a more promising opportunity to fulfill their goals and to reach their potential in life. With the hope for both a new field of study and for a ripple effect on future generations, my dream is being brought to fruition.
I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Aurélie Athan, the development team at TC and to my husband, Kenneth Edlow, whose support and generosity have enabled me to fulfill a life-time goal.
Dr. Mary Edlow (M.A. ’67) is a New York City psychoanalyst in private practice.