New York inmates defeat Harvard debate team
One of the first thoughts to come to most minds when Harvard is mentioned is either Ivy League or the top of all universities in the country. That is why the news of Harvard’s debate team losing to the Bard Debate Union at Eastern New York Correctional is still rattling around. However, the fact is obvious, one should note that the inmates practice constantly.
The story received national coverage from CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, USA Today and other major outlets, which is when David Register, a faculty fellow and the director of debate for the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), published the story from his point of view for The Guardian. He runs the Bard Debate Union at Bard College with his wife, Ruth Zisman, and together they founded the program in 2004.
Register teaches public speaking at Bard’s main campus and at all of the BPI campuses. His article on The Guardian’s website about the debate states that the “debaters face a unique set of obstacles — they wait weeks to receive the information I gather for them from Internet sources, and they have limited time to type and print their ideas.”
He says that everything paid off once their victory was official after the debate — on whether public schools on should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students — against the school currently ranked second on the top universities list by US News.
The Eastern branch of the Bard Debate Union opened in the summer of 2013 with the goal of a “competitive outlet” for Bard students similar to the events that happened in the Bard Debate Union on the actual campus. Although they are not allowed to debate together, both teams consider themselves one, despite the distance from each other.
According to Register, there are between 15 to 20 students at any given time present for the weekly, two-hour meetings. The sessions consist of strategy discussions and practices and the amount of work they do on their own barely compares to the work done in the meetings.
“When they aren’t in class, BPI debaters request time in the school to meet. When they can’t get into the school, they talk debate in their cells, the yard and the mess hall. They verbally spar with BPI students who are not on the debate team, and talk with their families — creating for themselves a group of informal coaches. And some of the veterans of the team, like Rodney Spivey and Darryl Robinson, have worked tirelessly to help build the debate team at Eastern into what it has become by welcoming and training new members.”
The debaters spend hundreds of hours preparing in the three to four months they usually have to get ready for a debate, in addition to carrying full course loads.
CNN reported that the Harvard club seemed to take the loss gracefully.
“Three members of the HCDU had the privilege of competing against members of the Bard Prison Initiative’s debate program,” the group posted on its 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 organizing this event.”
After facing off against the Ivy League university at the prison Sept. 18, the debaters were deemed the winners by a veteran panel of debate judges — Mary Nugent of Rutgers, Steven Penner of Hobart & William Smith and Lindsay Bing of Cornell. They were honored that members of Harvard’s team were willing to engage them in competition, and the contributions and character of these Harvard debaters should be celebrated.