Campus & Community

Grad student was driven by desire to help others

Lauren Johnson was just days away from going to Israel for a 10-week internship with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that helps Palestinians and Israelis. Although the region is mired in conflict, it was “her dream to go and see peace there,” said Micheline Ishay, one of Johnson’s professors at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

“In only her twenties, she knew what many older politicians didn’t: that violence breeds violence,” Ishay said at a Jan. 9 campus memorial service for Johnson.

Johnson, a 23-year-old Korbel graduate student studying human rights, died Jan. 5 of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning at her off-campus apartment.

Johnson’s professors and colleagues praised her passion for human rights, in particular her desire to help battered women and children from around the world.

For Johnson, “It wasn’t enough to study theory, she wanted to put them at work in a very real world,” said Korbel Professor Lynn Holland. “She worked hard to understand the complexities of abuse and how to remedy them.”

International law Professor Claude d’Estree said Johnson was a standout among her peers. While he always encouraged students to come into his office to speak about work with little response, he said, “Lauren came in every week for at least an hour.”

While she did earn an A in his class, he noted, that wasn’t her goal. “She really wanted to deeply understand the topic,” d’Estree said, adding that the two would speak about religion, politics and every other imaginable topic.

“She was a living expression of human rights,” he said.

Johnson was a graduate of the University of Portland, where she majored in French and political science. The fiery woman was remembered for her contagious smile, colorful scarves and “unique” outfits.

“I wanted to buy her nice clothes — maybe a suit — before her trip,” her father, Don Johnson, recalled. “But she just wanted her clothes from the Goodwill,” he laughed, explaining that his daughter was always the person she wanted to be without reservation.

Addressing the group of students leaving on Sunday for the Israel trip that his daughter was to go on, he asked them to keep Johnson in their hearts and to find confidence in themselves. “Make it more of yourself. Find that passion, live that passion and to hell with the rest. That’s what Lauren would have wanted.”

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