Transgenerational Trauma and Epigenetics: How Trauma Can Be Inherited

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

Can trauma responses be inherited from grandparents and great grandparents? The answer is "yes" according to recent discoveries in the field of behavioral genetics. This course will explore new research that explains how traumatic experiences of an individual's ancestors can create genetic alterations that are inherited by subsequent generations. Thus, making individuals predisposed to various psychiatric conditions such as Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

The course will broadly focus on two areas: (a) defining trauma and how it can be transmitted through generations and (b) understanding how to prevent transmission of trauma responses across generations. More specifically, concepts will be broken into three sub-topics. Topic one will be a a theoretical overview of transgenerational trauma using the theory from Dr. Joy DeGruy's book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). Additionally, a complete understanding of epigenetics will be discussed by reviewing the scientific works in the field of biology and genetics by Conrad Waddington and Ernst Hadron.

Topic two will examine current academic literature that support and discuss the link between generational trauma and genetics, as well as identify historical examples of mass trauma experiences (e.g., Holocaust and Transatlantic Slave Trade) and how it is related to transmission of trauma. Furthermore, during topic two, there will be identification of precipitating factors that increase the likelihood of trauma responses being genetically activated. Finally, during topic three, the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome Study Guide will be used to identify practical tools that can serve as protective factors to reduce the vulnerabilities to precipitating factors of trauma.

There will be daily readings from the assigned text (PTSS) and academic articles. Daily quizzes will be given to assess knowledge and understanding of the readings. Additionally, throughout the course, students will be placed in pairs and asked to collaborate a project in which they are identify an individual who is a descendant of a mass trauma survivor. As a pair and with permission of the identified descendant, they will interview and assess the person for trauma symptoms and also provide them with practical tools for promote positive behaviors. The findings from their interview and assessment will be presented to the class body.

Upon completion of this course, the following learning outcomes should be successfully achieved:
-Define and explain transgenerational trauma and epigenetics.
-Understand the impact of mass trauma on the genetic formation for descendants
-Assess and choose precipitating factors that would activate an epigenetic response
-Formulate an individualized plan to increase positive behaviors to reduce vulnerability to trauma
A major outcome of this course that will benefit college students is not only increased awareness but also teaching of practical, positive behaviors that will reduce the likelihood of them experiencing trauma and potentially serve to positively change the genetic makeup for future generations.

Prerequisites: There are no formal requirements for the course. It is recommended that students have taken a biology course and/or a psychology course.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPY0970
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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