Prison team beats top Harvard debaters

The Harry Elkins Widener library on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Harry Elkins Widener library on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK • A debating team comprising New York prisoners has beaten Harvard University's team - the top-ranked club in the world.

The friendly competition took place last month at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup, the BBC reported. During the debate, inmates defended the premise that students whose parents entered the United States illegally should be turned away from schools, said the report.

The debate was judged by a neutral panel.

The New York prison offers courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College and the inmates have formed a popular debate club, according to the report.

It was not the first win for the prison team. In the two years since starting the club, the prisoners have challenged and beaten teams from the University of Vermont and the US Military Academy at West Point.

But the Harvard victory may be their biggest success as the university team has won both the national and world championships, according to the BBC.

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 (at Eastern New York Correctional Facility)."

At Bard College, those who help teach the inmates are not particularly surprised by their success, BBC reported.

"Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigour and expectation as students on Bard's main campus," said Mr Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which operates in six New York prisons. The initiative allows inmates to earn a range of degrees mostly taught by Bard professors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'Prison team beats top Harvard debaters'. Print Edition | Subscribe