Three undergraduates from Harvard College Debating Union debated with three inmates imprisoned at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility. The men who were serving sentences for violent crimes won the debate. The Harvard debating team said they are proud to have lost the debate to the intelligent men incarcerated at the maximum security prison.
“This weekend, three members of the HCDU had the privilege of competing against members of the Bard Prison Initiative’s debate program,” the debate team said in a Facebook Post.
“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,” the Harvard debate team said.
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The debate happened in September but this is the only time the event was picked up by the press. Leslie Brody of The Wall Street Journal was the one to break the news, having the opportunity to attend the actual debate. Anais Carell, 20 years old, member of the Harvard debate team, said the inmates caught them off guard. The inmates were well-prepared and presented an unexpected line of argument, Carell told Brody.
The Harvard College Debate Union is Harvard’s Parliamentary debating union, according to the team’s website. The debate team competes weekly in the American parliamentary debate Association and BP Tournaments and other public debates. The team is different from the Harvard Debate Council which focuses on the more common form of Topical or Policy debate.
The team debated on whether public schools run by the government could deny enrollment to undocumented students. The inmates argued in favor of the public schools.
Judge Mary Nugent, who leads the panel of judges, told WSJ that the inmates presented a strong argument that those public schools who are welcoming undocumented students were failing; the result is an environment where children are being warehoused. Judge Nugent said the Harvard debate team failed to respond to some of the arguments presented by the inmates.
The inmate debate team is a result of the Bard Prison Initiative run by Bard College. The program provides college education to inmates who are qualified. The initiative aimed to arm its students of skills and education in order to successfully seek employment by the time they go out of prison.
The inmate debate team first participated in debates in 2014. The team had already defeated the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont.