“Every time I run, I make a statement to the world: I own my action, my body, my thoughts, and my experiences. I am not an object to be sexualized, diminished, or dominated. I am real. I am human. I am spirit manifest within this strong, healthy, and beautiful physical body. Honor that which rests within me.”
Leigh Cooper Wallace 1969-2012
Appalachian State University’s Walk for Awareness, now in its 25th year, is a community-building commemoration event held on Sanford Mall. Each year, hundreds of Appalachian students, faculty and staff come together to commemorate lives lost to interpersonal violence, support victims and survivors, and affirm our commitment to making the Appalachian community safe from interpersonal violence.
On Sept. 29, 1989, Leigh Cooper Wallace, then a 20-year-old Appalachian student, went on an early-evening run and was abducted at gunpoint and sexually assaulted by the same man who five days earlier had raped and killed Appalachian staff member Jeni Gray. Leigh escaped that night, and her testimony against her attacker was key to his arrest and conviction.
Leigh did more than survive her attack. She thrived, and helped her community thrive as well. A distance runner, she graduated in 1992 with a degree in exercise science, and stayed in the High Country, becoming a teacher and coach at Watauga High School, and a well-respected role model in our community. She often shared her story, and became an inspiration to countless others.
When the Walk for Awareness began in September 1990, more than 500 people attended to remember Jeni Gray. On that night, Leigh Cooper Wallace, who was still a student, spoke to the Appalachian Family. We had lost a beloved member of our staff, and she helped us find closure. She shared her strength with her university and our community, and we gladly accepted it. By sharing her strength, she made us stronger. The next year, we walked again, and today, this annual ritual has become an important part of our university’s culture. Tragically, in 2012, Leigh died from a sudden illness, but her inspiration lives on.
Leigh’s legacy is about the importance of community. Her story is Appalachian's story, and because of this, each year, on Sanford Mall, to commemorate her part in our community, for a quarter of a century, from this very spot, the Walk for Awareness has begun a journey of awareness and inspiration for countless Appalachian students each year.
In 2013, Appalachian installed a plaque in honor of Lee Cooper Wallace in the Crossroads coffee shop in the Student Union.
If you have been affected by interpersonal violence, Appalachian has several resources on campus to help you – Counseling and Psychological Services, the Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Equity Diversity and Compliance, and the Dean of Students are here to help and support you.