by Madison V. Fisler
Sept. 9, 2013. “We walk to remember. We walk to honor. We walk to move towards a future without sexual assault or violence,” said Dylan Russell, Appalachian State University’s Student Body President.
Since 1989, Appalachian State University students, faculty and staff have gathered for the annual Walk for Awareness to remember and acknowledge victims of rape and sexual assault. This annual event has persisted for 24 years.
The Walk came to be after university employee Jeni Gray was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered, and Appalachian Alumna Leigh Cooper Wallace survived an assault by the same man and later helped to bring him to justice.
“To say that she will be missed is an understatement,” said Cindy Wallace, Vice Chancellor for Student Development.
“Leigh was a messenger of hope with her message that ‘you’re stronger than you think.’ The power of her life was huge and she conveyed that strength to every student she taught and coached and certainly to all of those in her connection with Appalachian.”
Wallace was an inspiration to the campus who frequently shared her story during the Walk in hopes that it would bring strength to others and keep others safe.
Wallace was a coach, athlete and teacher at Watauga High School after graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in exercise science in 1992. During her time at ASU, Wallace participated in the track and cross country teams.
Known for her tenacity and her ability to bring out the best in her athletes, she was inducted into the Watauga Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
After serving for years as a steadfast symbol of hope and strength in the community, she passed away at the age of 43.
Wallace’s message of “you’re stronger than you think” resonates with many even after her death.
“Her message is even more relevant this year,” said Cindy Wallace. “Leigh’s message translates into our new message ‘it’s up to me’ which translates into this idea of responsibility to yourself and as a community.”
“Walk for Awareness is an evening in which we think about the world we want to live in and attempt to embody it. We think about the harsh realities that our generation faces and we think about how we respond to these situations,” Russell said.
“I am proud of our university for this event. Walk for Awareness illustrates that here at Appalachian we are a community determined not to shy away from the problems we face, but to address them willingly, responsibly and accordingly. We address these problems not only as a community of learners, but as an Appalachian family. This walk will be heavy on my heart. Usually we begin the walk by saying that this walk was created in remembrance of one and in honor of the other. This will be the first time that we will say this walk is in remembrance of two strong girls.”
Prior to the walk, the film “Why Walk: A Survivor’s Story” will be shown in the Table Rock Room at 8 p.m. in the Plemmons Student Union.
The event will also feature speeches by Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock, Vice Chancellor for Student Development Cindy Wallace, Student Government Association President Dylan Russell, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct Judy Haas and senior Tommy Wrenn.
“The Walk for Awareness has a long and rich history here at Appalachian,” said Suzette Patterson, chair of the planning committee.
“We have the Walk to honor Leigh and Jeni and to remember others who have experienced violence; each person can reflect on those who have affected their own lives. The Walk is also a time to talk about being a part of our community and how it takes each one of us to step up and speak out when we see something that concerns us.”
All are invited to this annual event to walk silently and to commemorate lives lost to violence, to support victims and survivors of violence and to oppose violence in all forms.
“For anyone who never knew Leigh, know that there is still a lot to do to promote a safe community,” Cindy Wallace said. “We have to educate our community constantly. You are never done.”