Carrying on tradition, students build bridges at Marlboro


Jillian Hetherman

The Marlboro Campus

By Chloe Els, Staff Writer

Gazing out at Marlboro College for the first time, Maya Abarca remembers seeing white buildings scattered over rolling hills—all of it nearly camouflaged amid a layer of snow. 

Unlike Emerson’s campus squeezed into the loud, bustling heart of Boston, the Marlboro campus was silent. It was also empty. In 2020, the school closed due to dwindling enrollment rates. In 2018, only 38 of 92 admitted students attended Marlboro.

Abarca—a senior interdisciplinary major through Emerson’s Marlboro Institute—was one of around 20 Emerson students who spent the night at the Marlboro campus on Nov. 19 during a trip designed to be a bonding opportunity for members of the Marlboro Institute.

On Nov. 6, 2019, President M. Lee Pelton announced that Marlboro College would be merging with Emerson. Through the merger, Marlboro donated its endowment and real estate to Emerson—totaling around $40 million. Though the school founded in 1946 no longer remains, it lives on through the Marlboro Institute at Emerson, which allows students to craft their own interdisciplinary majors, honoring the original mission of Marlboro.

The Marlboro School of Music purchased the Marlboro campus in 2021 for $2.71 million—a fraction of Emerson’s estimation of the campus’s worth at $10 million.

Before Marlboro closed, it was tradition for first-year students to spend a week at the beginning of the fall semester hiking, camping, and cooking together as part of a program called Bridges

Incoming students would spend the last week of August bonding in groups through a series of outdoor activities in the Vermont woods. According to Marlboro’s website, the students emerged with skills to handle group living and a network of friends to begin the school year. Now, the tradition lives on through Emerson students.

According to first-year interdisciplinary major Juwaria Jama, seniors at Emerson who used to attend Marlboro organized the trip because they wanted to introduce other Emerson students to the college. The trip was originally scheduled to take place before orientation, but was postponed.

On Nov. 19, Emerson students made the two-and-a-half hour drive from Boston to the Marlboro campus in Vermont. They spent the day hiking and the night in a dorm building that was built right before the college closed.

Fiona Brown, a sophomore interdisciplinary major, said that after everyone unpacked, the group embarked on a two-hour hike through the Vermont forest to see a beaver dam.

Both Brown and Abarca recall having to build a bridge out of logs to cross an icy pond during the hike. 

“We all had to hold hands as we crossed this makeshift bridge,” Abarca said. “It was this amazing bonding moment.”

After the hike, the group of students spent their evening sitting around a campfire, roasting sausages, and making s’mores. When it was dark, Abarca went stargazing with a few other students—something she’s unable to do in Boston.

“It was really beautiful to be surrounded by nature,” she said.

Despite having been closed for two years, Brown said the campus does not seem to have changed much from how it used to be.

“It’s like a snapshot in time,” Brown said. “Some places may get dilapidated, but not this one.”

Neither Abarca, Brown, or Jama originally attended Marlboro; however, they still connected to it because of Emerson’s preservation of certain aspects of the original college.

Many former Marlboro professors now teach interdisciplinary studies courses at Emerson as part of the Marlboro Institute. Some relocated to Boston, but some still live in Vermont and manage the two-and-a-half hour commute by carpooling.

“After making that long drive all the way up to Vermont,” Abarca said. “It really puts into perspective how much love they have for their students.” 

Through the integration of Marlboro into Emerson, students like Abarca, Brown, and Jama are able to combine areas of study and enjoy the supportive tight-knit community Marlboro fostered. 

“Because the department is so small, a lot of attention and focus is catered towards us,” Jama said. 

The Marlboro Institute has 69 full-time members, making it the second-smallest department at Emerson. It is ahead of the Communication Sciences and Disorders department which has 43 full-time members.

Brown believes the interdisciplinary program opens doorways and allows students to practice problem-solving. 

Brown transferred from Pace University in New York City to attend Emerson and join the interdisciplinary program. She is grateful the Marlboro Institute exists at Emerson, but contemplates the differences between Emerson and Marlboro and contemplates how her experience may have differed if she attended Marlboro for its program instead.

“I think I genuinely would have been happy [at Marlboro],” she said.