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Sing Sing Prison--Site of the Great Debaters

Posted by Deborah.Walker on Friday October 5, 2012

Thursday evening October 4, CNBC senior correspondent Scott Cohn moderated a debate with significantly fewer than the 67.2 million people who watched a similar, but nationally televised contest the previous night. Despite the smaller audience, these debaters still performed under intense scrutiny.  

The venue was the visitor’s room of our nation’s infamous maximum security correctional facility, Sing Sing Prison. The young men and women who faced off were students from the Mercy College Prison Education Program—Jermaine Archer, Mark Dixon, Kenyatta Hughes, Sean Kyler, William Tintle, Jon-Adrian Velaquez and William Walsh and undergraduates from the Nyack College Rockland County campus—Lawrence Felder, Tida Wright, and Jacqueline Zapata.

Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison executive director Sean Pica, (a 2001 Nyack College and also a Hudson Link alumnus) collaborated with Nyack’s Center for Scholarship and Global Engagement director Dr. Nina Balmaceda and Mercy College Professor Steven Witte to prepare students for their deliberation on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as “Obamacare.” 

Pro and con positions were decided by a flip of a coin, not by the personal opinions of the participants. Psychology major Lawrence Felder and Bible major Tida Wright clearly gained the respect and confidence of their colleagues on the blue team arguing for the PPACA, while criminal justice major Jacqueline Zapata held her own on the winning red team who argued against the federal health care law. This extraordinary learning experience for the Nyack students began just a few short months ago when Dr. Balmaceda tapped some of her brightest students to participate in meetings at the prison in preparation for the debate as they each juggled their senior year of full-time studies and jobs.

Points were tallied after the deliberation of the judges who included New York State Senator Thomas Duane; former Executive Vice President for major league baseball, Jimmie Lee Solomon; Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Superintendent, Ada Perez; and rapper, motivational speaker, and actor of “Law and Order” fame Ice-T, who announced the winning team’s slim victory by one point. 

Click here to read the Journal News front page coverage of the event.

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