An assistant professor in the social work department was selected as a Hartford Faculty Scholar for her research on human development and forgiveness in the elderly. Harriet Cohen has taught in the social work department since fall 2005. Her research is administrated by the Gerontological Society of America, which addresses the needs of elderly people.
Cohen said her purpose is to understand the nature of forgiveness in the personal and cultural lives of the elderly, specifically in Holocaust survivors.
“I’m excited because on one hand there is not a lot of literature out there, and it needs exploration,” Cohen said.
Cohen is one of 12 national Hartford Faculty Scholars, said Paulette Burns, dean of Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
The scholars received $100,000 for their research funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation of New York City and are paired with professionals in the social work field to help them in their studies, according to the society’s Web site.
Burns said the research Cohen is doing is significant to understanding the quality of life in the elderly and how forgiveness has allowed Holocaust survivors to live a productive life.
“The average life span of people is rising and we are coming into ages we’ve never known at that point in life,” Burns said.
Cohen said her goal is to learn from the individual experiences of these survivors and be able to apply her findings to others who deal with forgiveness.
“I want to hear how that population has come to understand forgiveness,” Cohen said. “I want to understand how they made meaning to those events.”
She said she is not just looking for experiences of forgiveness from Holocaust survivors but also wants to know how they have or haven’t forgiven during other events throughout their lives.
“We talk about (the Holocaust) in the 21st century, but it’s a personal experience between family, themselves and what they saw,” Cohen said.
Linda Harootyan, deputy director and program officer for the Hartford Faculty Scholars program, said because of the increase of elderly in society, the need for social works practitioners in geriatrics is necessary.
Harootyan said practitioners in geriatrics will benefit from research scholars such as Cohen who can advance knowledge in health and aging concerns.
In 2003, former faculty member Lazelle Benefield received the John A. Hartford post-doctoral Scholar for geriatrics in nursing, said Susan Moore, executive assistant in the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, but this is the first Hartford Faculty Scholar in the social work department.
“This program has national prominence and allows the social work department to have access to people who are giants in the field of social work,” Burns said.