Wednesday, October 7, 2015 8:09 am
Harvard University’s prestigious debate team has fallen to a group of New York prison inmates in a friendly competition, months after they had won a national title, the Associated Press reported today.
The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in the United States, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where the inmates have formed a popular debate club.
Last month, they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition.
Against Harvard, the inmates were tasked with defending a position they opposed: They had to argue that public schools should be allowed to turn away students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally.
The inmates put forward arguments that the Harvard team hadn’t considered. Three students from Harvard’s team responded, and a panel of neutral judges declared the inmates victorious.
The Harvard debate team was also crowned world champions in 2014. But the inmates are building a reputation of their own.
In the two years since they started the debate club, the prisoners have beaten teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont.
At Bard, those who help teach the inmates aren’t particularly surprised by their success.
“Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigour and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,” said Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which operates in six New York prisons.