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Harvard Debate Team Lose to NY Inmates in Prison Competition

Judges said the Ivy League members did not address all their arguments.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

They may have beaten Ivy Leaague teams around the country, but when the titled Harvard Debate Team faced off against New York prison inmates at a maxium-security facility, they found themselves disarmed and defeated.


The inmates, who are part of a program called the Bard Prison Initiative, were instructed to make the argument that “public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.” And they did so, successfully, by reasoning that undocumented students excluded from the public school system will be more effectively served by private and charter schools. Undocumented children, they said in the hour-long debate, are not being properly taught by public schools, which have become “dropout factories”. This is not an argument they believed in, said the prisoners, but for the purposes of the debate it suited them well.

According to a debate judge, the Harvard team did not sufficiently address all the points raised by the prison team. “They caught us off guard,” said Anais Carell, a member of the Harvard team, to the Wall Street Journal.

Alex Hall, an inmate, told the WSJ that he expected their win would make people “question” what goes in the prisons. “We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard,” he said.

The Bard Prison Initiative (BDI) allows inmates to take courses taught by Bard College faculty. The rehabilitative program equips prisoners with a liberal arts education so that they may be better prepared for life outside the facility. According the Guardian, fewer than 2 percent of BDI graduates return to prison in the first three years of their release.

“There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,” the Harvard team wrote on their Facebook page. “We are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.”

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