Do we need a train stop to validate our existence?

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • January 19, 2017

AT ISSUE: Renaming the Boylston T Stop 

OUR TAKE: We got that campus envy

Oh, Boylston Street Station—you’re so dear to us Emerson students. You’re our portal to everyone’s favorite screechy subway, and our gateway to weekend Allston parties, first dates at the MFA, and a rendezvous with that cutie from BU.

It’s no question that Boylston is important to Emerson, but is the feeling mutual? Many in our community seem to think so. Last semester, a group of students launched a petition to rename the station to Emerson College for a civic design class. Now it has over 800 of the 1,000 signatures, largely from alumni and current students. The rationale for the proposed name change: plenty of other colleges and universities have MBTA stations named after them, so why shouldn’t we? 

But unfortunately, we don’t have the notability and sheer physical presence of Harvard and Northeastern. We’re a small liberal arts college of some 4,000 students, not a gargantuan institution with tens of thousands. Those schools are neighborhoods unto themselves; we’re half a dozen buildings scattered around the Theater District. This petition is just an example of what we like to call “campus envy.” (See also: calling the Common our quad.)

Although Emerson seems established at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets—as the petition asserts—it was insignificant for much of the college’s history. For most of the 20th century, Emerson lived in the Back Bay near the intersection of Berkeley and Beacon Streets, hence the name of our paper. The college bought many of its current property in the 1990s, almost a century after the Boylston Street Station opened. Other institutions with MBTA stations named after them, like Boston University (est. 1839) or Northeastern University (est. 1898), were there long before the trains passed by them. 

Renaming the station could also undercut its unique history. Boylston opened in 1897, one stop along the first rail system of its kind in the country. As the New York Times reported in April of that year, the new train system “gives the Hub a footing among the cities that take pride in the present rather than tearfully commemorate the past.” Although only one and a third miles long, the more-than-a-century-old rails laid a foundation for much of the MBTA network. 

This petition, which flew under the radar for a period of time, recently resurfaced as another project from the class was fulfilled. The similar call to action asked to extend the amount of time pedestrians had to cross the Boylston and Tremont intersection. The Boston Transportation Department added the extra four seconds to the crosswalk. However, it is important to note BTD reviews signal times every five years, and this intersection was already on the dashboard. 

Emerson’s proximity to surrounding facilities, such as City Place and Boston Common, makes it feel like these places belong to us. Coupled with frequent use by the Emerson community, it can be easy to forget that City Place actually belongs to the Mass Transportation Building and the Boston Common actually belongs to, as it says in the name, the city of Boston. And we have all felt that irritation when the late-night crowd at Whiskey Saigon blocks the entrance to the dorms. It is important for us to remember that things were here before Emerson, and although we do contribute to the Downtown area, we do not control it. 

Emerson students often joke that we live in a bubble—but in reality, we don’t. Our college is in the center of a city with a rich and vibrant history, and ignoring that is not only entitled, but selfish. Emerson’s history is just a blip compared to that of Boston, and pretending otherwise is counterproductive.