Growing up in a Black household, English senior Calyha Brown became accustomed to older family members talking a lot about generational curses. As she grew up, it wasn't just something talked about around the house — it became her reality.
It was difficult for Brown to work toward her goals and divert her family’s norms, she said. It was previously unheard of in her family to attend college, practice Christianity and wait until marriage to have children.
“I always just wanted to break that cycle and not continue to let it be something that kept me back,” Brown said.
Danielle Eugene, social work assistant professor, said in an email that a “generational curse” refers to a negative cycle of behavior patterns, practices or mind-sets that are transmitted from generation to generation.
It’s a longstanding term that is especially prevalent in families of color, as Eugene observed as a social worker in the field.
Divorce, addictions and unhealthy relationships are all examples of possible “curses” that can be unconsciously passed from generation to generation.
Public health senior Christian Johnson said being the first in the family to go to college can be challenging.
A generational curse can make it harder to achieve things at every individual step, as Johnson is learning throughout her journey to medical school.
Although she has accomplished as much as her peers, she didn’t have the benefit of supportive parents who could afford to pay for her tutoring, Johnson said.
Brown said that to her, a generational curse is a disadvantage that has spread throughout a family’s history, and sometimes it can hold an individual back from achieving their ultimate goal.
Lacking access to things that seem more accessible to other people makes a profound difference and can unconsciously start a cycle that lasts for generations, she said.
Brown lost many relationships with her family when she decided to pursue a career and live independently. However, she recognizes that her family was probably afraid for her and unfamiliar with the idea of investing in a degree as opposed to doing hard labor.
They might have differing life goals, but there are traits her family passed on for generations that Brown still wants to hold with her, she said.
Her family has always shown an ability to face adversity head-on, as many Black families in America do.
Brown admires that quality, and it has kept her going during this difficult time of pursuing her dreams, she said.
Eugene said students who may be dealing with a generational curse should know that destructive generational patterns do not have to define who they are or what they will become.
Each person has an opportunity to break generational patterns through self-awareness, reflecting on family history and seeking out support, she said.