Tight knit community on Potash Hill bound by physical space

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Tight knit community on Potash Hill bound by physical space

The Brown Science Building at the top of Marlboro College's Potash Hill. Lizzie Heintz / Beacon Staff

The Brown Science Building at the top of Marlboro College's Potash Hill. Lizzie Heintz / Beacon Staff

The Brown Science Building at the top of Marlboro College's Potash Hill. Lizzie Heintz / Beacon Staff

The Brown Science Building at the top of Marlboro College's Potash Hill. Lizzie Heintz / Beacon Staff

By Jacob Seitz

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MARLBORO, Vt.—Hunter Corbett, a junior at Marlboro College, described her campus as one where students go to tell stories over an open fire, gather around a stone circle crafted by alumni, and walk through a maze of human-shaped mirrors in the forest.

“It’s a magical place, it looks like a fairy circle,” Corbett said in an interview. “When you walk in you see your face [in the mirrors] and you’re like ‘oh my gosh I exist.’”

This is just one of many stories told by students of Marlboro about a campus whose physical location means as much to them as the students who inhabit it. “They wanted to do logging here in the 90s, and technically because of our contract with the land, they could do logging, any place not 50 feet from a trail,” Corbett said. “And so what a student did in the 90s was literally make trails, set the maximum distance was 50 [feet], so they couldn’t be logging. Students, since the 40s, have been just intrinsically tied to this land.”

Emerson College announced a prospective merger with Marlboro on Nov. 6, in which Emerson takes control of the Vermont campus and gives current Marlboro students the opportunity to finish their degree at the Boston campus. Marlboro College has roughly 40 academic and administrative buildings spread throughout its roughly 360 acres of hilly, wooded land.

The campus is built on a slope, so students frequently walk from the Science Center—dubbed the ‘Snack Center’ for having the only vending machine on campus—at the top of the hill to the dining hall in the middle, to the cottages at the bottom.

“You have to be kind of stocky to go here,” Griff Jurchak, an alumnus, said while walking up the historic hill.

The fate of the hill that Marlboro sits on remains uncertain, but Emerson and Marlboro formed working groups to work out the details. One thing that is certain, though, is that no matter what happens to the land, Marlboro College will not be on Potash Hill in the fall of 2020. 

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Charlie Hickman, a junior at Marlboro and head selectperson on the Selectboard, which runs Marlboro’s Town Meeting, said the Marlboro campus feels like their home.

“This place that I call my home has been taken from me,” Hickman said in an interview. “I get to live in a house in the forest with my dog. I will not be able to get up in the morning and put a leash on my dog and walk out the front door, around the forest. I will not have the fall here.”

Hickman said that it’s hard to envision future students not attending the rustic campus.

“The hardest part about it is that no one else gets to experience Marlboro as we know it,” Hickman said. “While it is isolated, it’s hard to get to, it really sucks sometimes, it is such a big factor in the creation of this community that cares so much, and that works together, and it’s because we’re all stuck on this hill together. And so we have to make it work.”

Ritu Mitra, a literature professor at Marlboro, said some students come to Marlboro because of its location.

“For some people, they come to Marlboro because they cannot deal with bigger cities, they cannot deal with that stimulation,” Mitra said. “For some people, they really don’t have another home to go back to. We’re on a hill, we’re stuck together and it forces us to do things a certain way.”

Tanner Jones, the director of resident life at Marlboro, said the college’s alumni are also connected to the campus because of its intrinsic nature.

“For a lot of the students and some of the alumni, it’s just like, ‘Oh, I’m just not there as much’ like there’s nothing to miss because it’s always there and you’re not losing it,” Jones said in an interview. “And now this is actually the first time that people will be, in a capacity, losing it. And so the mindset is ‘oh no one else gets to have this now,’ anyone who’s ever gotten it has always got to keep it.”

Hickman said one of their biggest concerns is not being able to show people the campus that helped shape them.

“I am devastated that I’m not going to be able to come back here and show people this college,” Hickman said. “I’m not going to be able to say, ‘look at what I did here, look at how much I grew here.’ This place made me who I am now.”