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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Barbelin casts light on social issues with new LEDs system

With a new lighting system the bell tower can display more colors. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

With the push of a button, John Pilat can shed light on just about any issue or cause important to the St. Joe’s community.

Pilat, assistant director of power plant foreman in the Office of Facilities Management, is in charge of lighting the iconic tower of Barbelin Hall.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve done just about every color for every significant type of event,” Pilat said. “Autism, breast cancer awareness, we’ve done the full gamut of colors.”

Until last year, Pilat said facility workers had to apply a special mylar gel, a type of polyester film used to distort light and create different colors, to a single 1500 watt bulb that illuminated the tower.

“We had the ability to make it blue, green, a little bit of red and purple, with just a mylar gel similar to what they use in the theaters but we had to send a guy up all those stairs,” Pilat said.

The light was also too hot for the gel, creating a mess.

“It would melt the gel,” Pilat said. “It would only last a couple of days.”

That presented a challenge for requests for month-long awareness campaigns, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pilat said.

In the summer of 2018, the single bulb was replaced by four LED lights, held in place by a metal bracket inside the tower. Now, when a request for a new color comes in, Pilat just pushes a button on his laptop keyboard, creating a whole new light show for the campus and surrounding community.

“I’d like to think that it gives them a sense of camaraderie or a sense of belonging to the community,” Pilat said. “There’s so many issues in the world nowadays, so anything we can do to highlight them [helps] make people more cognizant of those things.”

The lights in the Barbelin tower have cast light on a variety of causes and celebrations over the years. During the month of April, the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support requests blue lights in support of Autism Awareness Month. The lights have also shown red on game days for Hawks basketball, green for the Philadelphia Eagles when the National Football League (NFL) team won the Super Bowl in 2018 and purple and gold for Halloween. Most recently, in October, the lights glowed pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Anyone on campus can put in a request to change the tower lights with a form submitted to the Office of Student Life, said Gail Benner, public relations director. Decisions regarding approval of requests follow the university’s “Interim Policy on Assembly and Expression,” Benner said. A request to change the lights is done through the “Assembly and Fixed Exhibit Form,” located on the Office of Community Standards website.

Missy MacPherson ’20, event leader for St. Joe’s chapter of Relay for Life, was behind the request for the pink lights in October. MacPherson said her group would like to highlight other cancer awareness causes as well.

“Somebody thought it would be really cool if every month we lit up Barbelin to coincide with the color ribbon that goes along with the cancer awareness for that month,” MacPherson said. “For the month of April, which is when we have our event, we are going to do purple because that’s the color for Relay.”

Stephanie Zellner ’22, vice president of SJUPride, said the club requested a rainbow of colors last year in honor of Unity Week.

“I think it was a really cute and fun way to show solidarity with the LGBT community and allowed people to feel seen,” Zellner said. “I also think it was beautiful, and even people who didn’t know why the lights were changing were able to appreciate the beauty.”

Pilat said he is proud of his contribution to the process.

“Everyone’s been touched by these different things over the course of their life,” Pilat said. “I’d like to believe it makes a difference.”

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