A group of New York inmates have out debated Harvard University’s team – the top-ranked club in the world.
Last month, inmates at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility challenged the Harvard team to a debate at the maximum-security lockup.
The prison offers courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College and the inmates have formed a popular debate club.
The friendly competition ended in a win for the prison’s team.
This is not the first win for the Eastern New York Correctional team.
In the two years since starting the club they have challenged and beaten teams from the University of Vermont and the US Military Academy at West Point, with whom they have established an annual match and a budding rivalry.
The Harvard victory may be their biggest success; the Harvard team have won both the national and world championships.
In the match, inmates defended the premise that students whose parents entered the US illegally should be turned away from schools.
The debate was judged by a neutral panel.
Shortly after their loss Harvard students posted on the team’s 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,”‘ they wrote. “And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.”
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 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.”
The initiative allows inmates to earn a range of degrees mostly taught by Brad professors all taught without access to the internet.
About 15% of all prisoners at Eastern New York Correctional are registered and some graduates have continued their studies at Yale and Columbia universities, according to Kenner.