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Harvard Debate Team Loses to Inmates: The Success of the Bard Prison Initiative

The Harvard University debate team, one of the most highly ranked debate teams in the world, was recently beaten by the Eastern New York Correctional debate team. According to an article from BBC News, the inmates’ debate team challenged Harvard’s team in September of 2015 to debate at the maximum security prison.

The Eastern New York Correctional Facility is one of the prisons in New York that the Bard College Prison Initiative operates in and offers courses at, and inmates taking courses from Bard formed a debate team. Since forming in 2013, the Eastern New York Correctional debate team has beaten other formidable debate teams, such as the University of Vermont and the US Military Academy at West Point’s teams. According to the BBC News article, the inmates and the US Military Academy at West Point’s teams “have established an annual match and a budding rivalry.”

Beating Harvard’s debate team, however, speaks to the determination, hard work, and rhetorical skills of the Eastern New York Correctional debate team, as Harvard’s team has won both the national and world debate championships in the past.

The Harvard debate team took the loss well, posting on their Facebook page that “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.”

As Bryan Stevenson says in Just Mercy, “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” The Eastern New York Correctional debate team’s victory over Harvard demonstrates the success of the Bard Prison Initiative and providing opportunities for inmates to pursue educational goals while in prison.

To read the BBC News article about the Eastern New York Correctional debate team’s success, click here.