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Kristen Oertel

NEH grant to support new trauma studies minor

Earlier this month, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded The University of Tulsa a $150,000 grant for its two-year project to develop a proposed humanities minor. The project, titled Historical Trauma and Transformation: A Place-Based Humanities Minor, is spearheaded by Professor of History Kristen Oertel and Associate Professor of Psychology Lisa Cromer. It uses place-based learning to cultivate a deep understanding of American and world history by exploring how collective trauma and the subsequent responses have shaped society and institutional structures.

If approved, students could begin enrolling in the new minor in spring 2024.


“We are thrilled that the TU Institute of Trauma, Adversity and Injustice (TITAN) has been awarded the NEH grant to develop such a unique minor,” said Cromer, executive director of the institute and lead on the project. “TITAN has long been on the leading edge of trauma-focused interdisciplinary scholarship and providing this educational opportunity at the undergraduate level will have far-reaching impacts. A key aspect of this unique program is a Summer Faculty Training Institute that will bring trauma-focused, culturally humble teaching approaches to courses that are in the minor’s curriculum.”

The historical trauma and transformation program will engage students through meaningful class discussions, hands-on research with archival materials and excursions to museums and historic sites. Courses will examine contemporary social structures, values and beliefs within the context of their roots that include a history of racism, colonization, forced migration and/or genocide.

Kristen Oertel

“We are leveraging our strengths in history, psychology, English literature, anthropology, sociology, philosophy and religion to offer students a truly interdisciplinary approach to studying the various ways humans have suffered, endured and triumphed over trauma,” said Oertel. “The University of Tulsa is uniquely positioned to become a leader in the study of historical trauma and transformation because we are located at the juncture of significant historical events like the Tulsa Race Massacre and the forced removal of dozens of Native American tribes to this region.”

Reuben Gant, executive director of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, said his organization “looks forward to bringing attention to and constructively addressing historical trauma and its impacts on community for generations. This initiative will enhance the understanding of our community’s history and provide insight into the lingering effects of trauma on society.”

Students will use trauma theory and an understanding of historical and intergenerational trauma transmission to address current-day problems. Students will also learn how people and cultures survive, thrive and transform trauma as they shape societal change.

“While trauma studies is growing nationwide at the graduate level,” Oertel stated, “we are one of the only universities in the country that is creating an undergraduate program that is humanities-based, and we are excited to provide this opportunity for research and place-based learning to our students.”

Cromer commented that she has never led a project that was so well received by so many community partners. “This program is so needed, and every community partner we approached was excited to participate. Students interested in historical trauma are going to be in for a treat with this new minor!” she said.

(Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.)

Want to learn more? Email for details about this humanities-based program.