Transgenerational Trauma and Epigenetics: How Trauma Can Be Inherited

Course Description

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 two sub-topics. Topic one will be a theoretical overview of transgenerational trauma using the theory from Dr. Joy DeGruy's book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). There will be identification of historical examples of mass trauma experiences (e.g., Holocaust and Transatlantic Slave Trade). 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, and how it is related to transmission of trauma. Furthermore, there will be identification of precipitating factors that increase the likelihood of trauma responses being genetically activated and 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 and academic articles. Quizzes will then assess knowledge and understanding of the readings. Additionally, throughout the course, you will be placed in pairs and asked to collaborate on a project in which you identify how Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome has impacted communities. You and your partner will identify ways in which PTSS and other consequences continue to impact your chosen community, as well as, what can be done to ameliorate consequences. You will be asked to present your research to the class.

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Apply critical thinking and analytical skills to interpreting scientific data and evaluation of theory/research
  • Acquire and synthesize scientific information from a variety of scholarly sources
  • Demonstrate written, visual, and/or oral presentation skills to communicate scientific knowledge of the connection between epigenetics and trauma
  • Describe and explain the key concepts related to epigenetics and post-traumatic stress


There are no formal requirements for the course. It is recommended that students have taken a biology course and/or a psychology course. Course content includes sensitive and challenging material which may evoke emotional discomfort. The course may not be appropriate for young students or individuals with extensive, untreated trauma histories.


This course is no longer being offered.