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What Was Emerson on the Hatch Shell?

Four students in front of the Hatch Shell with balloons above them, hand out flyers.
Students get ready for the first Emerson on the Hatch Shell event in 1986.

By Jenn Williams, Head of Archives & Special Collections

Emerson has a long tradition of providing fun and informational orientation programs for new and returning students. In the mid-1980s, events usually took place in September and included boat rides, cookouts at the beach, and overviews of the student handbook. The goal was to give students a chance to get to know one another, the College, and the surrounding area. It also gave them a chance to relax before the stress of midterms arrived.

Emerson students and a public safety officer talk at the 1992 Emerson on the Hatch Shell event.
Emerson students and a public safety officer talk at the 1992 Emerson on the Hatch Shell event

Emerson had dozens of clubs, fraternities and sororities, and organizations, ranging from the Berkeley Beacon and Emersonian to Swollen Monkey Showcase and the Musical Theatre Society. Due to the large number of these groups, students were often unsure of which activities to choose and even unaware of all the school’s offerings. The staff of the Student Union—which provided physical space, services, and programs geared toward creating a sense of community among students, faculty, and staff—therefore decided to create an event that would remedy this problem.

At this time, the majority of the Emerson campus was located in the Back Bay. It was close to the Charles River Esplanade and its Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell, an outdoor stage for performances surrounded by a large field. It was the perfect place to host a student organization fair and orientation festival.

A cartoon promotion for the 1992 event.
Promotional material for the 1992 Emerson on the Hatch Shell event.

In 1986, the Student Union and Metropolitan District Commission provided funding for the first “Emerson on the Hatch Shell.” Held on September 10, the Student Union and a dedicated team of Orientation Leaders set up tables around the Hatch Shell for all student groups that wished to advertise their activities to incoming and returning students. The groups were allowed to use banners, flyers, technology, and food to entice prospective participants to learn more about them. Aside from the tables, there was also free food, drinks, and a concert by local pop group Tour de Force.

The event was a hit with hundreds of students in attendance. Over the following years, the event became more elaborate and popular. Every year had a different theme to guide the various activities. In 1992, for example, the theme was “A Carnival of Sorts” and included clowns, juggling, games, caricature drawings, and face painting. Students also received free swag from WBOS while listening to reggae band Jah Spirit and other mic spots. According to one student quoted in the Emersonian, “Emerson is such a club-oriented school because the organizations you join are usually in your major. Emerson on the Hatch Shell gave me the chance to see all the different opportunities Emerson has to offer. It was fun too!”

Emerson on the Hatch Shell continued to be a popular event until the College started moving to the current Campus on the Common in the late 1990s, and many alumni have fond memories of it.

Photos courtesy of the Emerson College Archives & Special Collections. This article was originally posted on the people@Emerson blog.

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