The West Side move and the future of Emerson

by Beacon Staff • April 25, 2007

The internal and external changes to Emerson College in recent years.

Our View:

Whatever is different about the student body or the campus, we shouldn't sacrifice what makes Emerson unique.,This is the first school year Emerson has been without the West Side campus-the dorms and student center on Beacon and Arlington streets. The campus move was a radical change and a difficult adjustment for all those who were a part of Emerson when we were not merely the campus on the common, but also across it.

It is of little value now to debate the merits of Piano Row versus the West Side dorms, as the change has already been made. What is worth examining is more beneath the surface-how the move has changed the outward appearance of Emerson College as an institution and what direction we seem to be going in.

All who can remember considering coming here can surely recall browsing sites like The Princeton Review and noticing the distinct character of Emerson's student body. We all know the stereotypes and the adjectives come immediately to mind: arty, bohemian, alternative, nonconformist, tolerant of alternative lifestyles and so on.

Beacon and Arlington's old brownstones, and the tight-knit community of students who resided in them, fit perfectly within that character. They felt almost like communes for those turned off by the standard dorm atmosphere of the massive Little Building.

For better or worse, a little bit of that character has been lost with the construction of Piano Row, an incredibly modern and sterile building that is the precise opposite of the old dorms. It also sits just a few steps down from the LB.

As The Beacon reported last week, Emerson saw an increase in only 93 applicants in last year's pool, a rise of 1.2 percent. By comparison, Northeastern University saw a spike of 12 percent and most other area schools have similarly seen significantly higher applicant rates.

There are many factors that could explain Emerson's poor performance in this area for this past year. However, it is hard not to think that high school students aware of Emerson's quaint, unique campus were disappointed to hear that it completely moved to a one-block area on the crime-plagued intersection of Boylston and Tremont streets.

Emerson's student body is in many ways still reflective of our artsy and unique reputation. The past few years, however, have seen a wider variety of pupils who don't fit that characterization. There seems to be a new identity emerging, of a highly driven and career-obsessed contingent that mirrors the addition of Piano Row in many ways.

This variety is welcome. Emerson need not lose its flair for the different just because the physical makeup of the campus has and just because the student body looks more mainstream than ever.

Emerson's character is not only in where our buildings lie or the clothes worn by those who live inside them. It's in our minds-our attitudes and our creativity.

Hopefully, this is something that no changes to our surroundings will compromise.