University Promotes Autism Awareness with Expensive Building Illumination

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by Anselmo Watkins

Several of the campus's Asperger's students needed counseling when the blue light display triggered sensory overload.
Several of the campus’s students with Asperger’s Syndrome needed counseling when the autism light display triggered sensory overload.

Throughout the month of April, Whittington University’s Central Administration Building will be bathed in a pastel blue light as the campus celebrates Autism Awareness Month.

According to campus lighting shop supervisor John Cimbal, the university spent “several thousand dollars, in the mid-five figures” on the customized lighting grid that will illuminate the five-story building on three sides. Campus physical plant personnel spent more than two days installing the system.

“Unfortunately, we only had the budget to illuminate three sides of the building. Hopefully, next year we will be able to allocate enough money to illuminate the entire building,” Cimbal said, adding that a planned sign outside the building explaining why it had been illuminated blue was also dropped from the project. “Maybe next year,” Cimbal said.

Vice President for Public Relations Edgar Tovar said that the lighting of the admin building served multiple purposes.

“Autism Awareness Month is important, and we want our students to know that,” Tovar said. “But what is really important is that we show people that we care about things. We care so much that we will spend thousands of dollars to bathe our administration building in blue light to show that we care.”

When asked if the money spent on lighting might have been better spent on autism research, Tovar said no.

“Researchers have spent millions of dollars researching autism and they haven’t really found much, have they?” he said. “Another few thousand dollars really wouldn’t make much difference. But in marketing this university? This sort of publicity is gold!”

Passing by the illuminated admin building, Whittington senior Kyle Waldorp said that he hadn’t noticed the pale blue lights until they had been pointed out to him.

“It’s a nice, pleasant color,” Waldorp said. “Kind of ‘smurf-colored.’ Not sure why they did it, but it’s nice.”

When told the display was for Autism Awareness Month, Waldorp responded. “OK, sure. Autism. Like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, right? Cool. I have a friend who is smart like that. He’s a math major. I’m in sociology.”