A Harvard debate team was recently bested in a competition, but it wasn’t another prestigious college that took the prize. Instead, it was a group of New York prison inmates–three of them, to be exact.
The convicts, who are currently in prison for manslaughter, entered the competition having already beat the University of Vermont and West Point. So it’s safe to say they were feeling pretty confident as they took their seats across from their Ivy League competitors.
As for the debate, the men were asked to argue that public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students, which was a stance the team actually disagreed with. Nonetheless, the team of prisoners was able to argue that schools which housed undocumented students were under-performing significantly. They proposed that if these “dropout factories” could deny undocumented children admission, nonprofits and wealthier schools would step in to give them a higher-quality education.
Judge Mary Nugent told the Wall Street Journal that the Harvard College Debating Union did not respond to parts of that argument. The convicts were later declared the winners.
The three men from Eastern New York Correctional Facility became part of the debate team through something called the Bard Prison Initiative, which is run by Bard College (located only a stone’s throw away from the jail). The program provides college level education for qualifying inmates in order to help them find employment and reduce re-offend rates once they’re released.
Needless to say, it looks like the program is working.
“We have been graced with opportunity,” Carlos Polanco, one of the debaters for the Bard team, told the WSJ. “They make us believe in ourselves.”
So much for people being unable to change, right?