A group of New York prison inmates has defeated Harvard University’s debate team, who won the national and world championships earlier this year.
The world’s top ranked team were beaten in the friendly competition by inmates from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, which has a popular debating club. Convicts at the maximum-security prison can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College.
In the debate, which was judged by a neutral panel, the inmates defended the premise that students whose parents have entered America illegally should be turned away from public schools.
Their argument made the case that schools who took in undocumented children often underperformed, and refusing to enrol the children could result in wealthier schools interceding and offering a better education.
After their defeat, the Harvard team posted their congratulations on Facebook: “There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend. And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organising this event.”
Since forming the debating club two years ago, the Eastern New York Correctional team has also defeated teams from the US Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont.
The victory was not seen as a huge surprise by those at Bard, with Max Kenner, the executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, saying: “Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigour and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus. Those students are serious. They are not condescended to by their faculty.”