Despite arguing for a motion they strongly disagreed with, inmates defeated Ivy League team amidst cheers
In a startling first, Harvard University’s debating team lost to New York prison inmates.
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 the debate club invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition.
Despite arguing for a motion that they strongly disagreed with, the inmates against all odds defeated the Harvard team amidst cheers from the audience.
The Harvard debate team lost to a prison debate team: http://t.co/vSm3dh3VnR pic.twitter.com/qbzGvhIg43
— Affinity Magazine (@Affinitylife) October 6, 2015
The inmates were asked to argue that public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students, a position the team opposed.
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One of the judges, Mary Nugent, told the Wall Street Journal that the Bard team effectively made the case that the schools which serve undocumented children often underperformed. The debaters proposed that if these so-called dropout factories refuse to enroll the children, then nonprofits and wealthier schools might intercede, offering the students better educations. She told the paper that Harvard’s debaters did not respond to all aspects of the argument.
“They caught us off guard,” Anais Carell, a 20-year-old student told the Wall Street Journal, adding how impressed the Harvard students, who are the current national champions, had been by their opponents.
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The Harvard team proud of having lost to such an intelligent team wrote on their 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 organising this event.”
President of the Harvard College Debating Union, Dhruva Bhat, told Boston.com, “The prison initiative reached out to us to set up a debate, and we agreed. We wanted to be of any help we could be.”
He said that the Harvard team had “definitely not” gone easy on the inmates. “That would have been incredibly disrespectful of their talent and work,” he added.
In the two years since the debating initiative, the prisoners have defeated teams from the US Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont but, in what has been described as “like something from a film written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck,” the Harvard victory is the biggest of them all.
This article originally appeared on Wall Street Journal.