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Harvard's Prestigious Debate Team Loses to New York Inmates

    Harvard’s debate team fell to a group of New York prison inmates. (Niklas Tenhaef / CC BY-SA 2.0)


Prisoners on the debate team of New York’s maximum security Eastern Correctional Facility beat Harvard’s team just months after the Ivy Leaguers took a national title.

Associated Press reports via The Guardian:

The showdown took place at the Eastern Correctional Facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard college, and where 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.

The Harvard debate team was crowned world champions in 2014. But the inmates are building a reputation of their own. In the two years since they started a debate club, the prisoners have beaten teams from the US military academy at West Point and the University of Vermont. The competition with West Point, which is now an annual affair, has grown into a rivalry.

At Bard, those who helped teach the inmates were not particularly surprised by their success.

“Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor 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. “Those students are serious. They are not condescended to by their faculty.”

Shortly after the loss, students on the Harvard team wrote on its Facebook page: “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 organizing this event.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Alexander Reed Kelly
Former Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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