Lindsay Johnson fills every criterion for receiving an award or scholarship. An exemplary architecture student, she volunteers at a battered women’s shelter and helps build homes for families in Mexico. This year, she received the William R. Hearst-CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement – for all these reasons. But on top of her success, Johnson was given the award for her triumph over a terrifying experience.
In 1999, while attending Chico State University as an art student, Johnson was brutally attacked. She had just moved out of the dorms and was living in an off-campus apartment. During the night, someone entered her apartment through an unlocked door and assaulted her with a weapon, which the authorities presumed to be a hammer.
“They were coming to kill me,” she said, recounting the story carefully and calmly. Even with her roommates home, Johnson lay unconscious for nearly an hour until she was discovered. Her injuries were substantial, but what took much longer to heal were the psychological damages.
The January after the attack, Johnson tried to return to school at San Jose State University, but found herself not quite ready.
“I suffered really bad anxiety because I was with all these people and I didn’t know who they were,” she said.
Johnson soon became a flight attendant in order to make her whereabouts less obvious. This was the point when she began to recover.
“When I was a flight attendant, I fell in love with the architecture I saw,” she said. “It enabled me to direct my art interest into a certain area.”
After a little over a year and with counseling and help from her friends and family, Johnson came back to school, this time at Cal Poly.
“Returning to school was the best thing I did,” she said.
Among those who can attest to Johnson’s success is architecture professor Howard Weisenthal. He said Johnson demonstrates a maturity that is seen almost exclusively in those who have had some life experience.
“There’s something special about the returning students who have been out as professionals,” he said. “They have a very serious approach, a good work ethic and basically have direction and focus. They bring all of their worldly experience to the class and their projects.”
For Johnson, her experience really is worldly, having traveled as a flight attendant.
With her knowledge of architecture from different places, Weisenthal said he thinks she will find her place and be comfortable in the architecture profession.
“The profession is so broad, there’s no telling at the moment where she might fit in,” he said. “But she’s a very dynamic and intelligent person and these days in architecture you make your own destiny.”
Johnson’s passion for architecture drove her to become active in building houses for families in Mexico.
“I always wanted to do it because it’s related to architecture,” she said. “I’m from San Diego so it was easy for me to get involved. I could just drive across the border and help out.”
Johnson also helps with fundraising for La Casa de Los Madres, a battered women’s shelter in San Francisco. As a survivor of an attack, she wanted the opportunity to help women who had gone through similar experiences.
All of her hard work and bravery paid off this year when she received the Hearst-Trustees award at the Sept. 20 board meeting.
“Just even being selected by Cal Poly was a great achievement in itself and when I got the award I was elated,” she said.
The $3,000 scholarship was given to students for outstanding academic achievement, community service and financial need. Each student who received the award had overcome a personal challenge.
Johnson took winning the award as a chance to tell her fellow students about her experience and to offer her advice as a survivor. Her main message for those who were victims of violent crimes was to talk about it.
“One of my difficulties was I didn’t want to talk to (family and friends) because I knew they couldn’t relate,” she said.
Johnson said support groups along with counselors at her universities were a great help. She also read a lot about her condition, which helped her continue to make progress.
“When you suffer from post traumatic stress disorder there are stages you go through and it’s difficult to go through every one but if you read about it, you can see that you are getting somewhere,” she said.
“You’re going to cry and you’re going to be upset. I know I’ve lost my independence. I don’t think I can ever live alone, but I’ve learned to focus my energy on the positive,”she said.
One of the most important messages Johnson wanted to get across was for students to take precautions such as locking their doors and windows.
“You should never feel safe,” she said. “Always take precautions.”