Cornell History Professor Apologizes for Calling Hamas Attacks ‘Exhilarating’ in Controversial Remarks

A history professor at Cornell University has issued an apology for recent comments in which he described the attacks by Hamas on Israel as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘energizing.’ The University is currently reviewing his declarations.

Rickford’s Apology and Statement

In a public statement, the teacher in question, Russell Rickford, apologized for his choice of words and the anguish caused by them.

He said, “I recognize that some of the language I used was reprehensible and did not reflect my values. As I said in the speech, I abhor violence and the violent targeting of civilians.”

Rickford is an associate professor of history specializing in African-American political culture post-World War II, the Black Radical Tradition, and transnational social movements. Following his controversial outburst, he expressed regret for the pain his ‘reckless remarks’ caused his family, students, colleagues, and others during this period of suffering.

He also took the opportunity to clarify his values, emphasizing his dedication to human dignity, peace, and justice.

“I unequivocally oppose and denounce racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, militarism, fundamentalism, and all systems that dehumanize, divide, and oppress people,” he declared.

Controversial Comments and Public Reaction

Rickford delivered the contentious comments during a speech intending to spotlight grassroots resistance among African-American, Jewish, and Palestinian communities.

His language drew sharp criticism from various quarters, which prompted him to admit that his words were “reprehensible.”

In response to his remarks, numerous online petitions have sprung up, demanding his removal from Cornell University.

One in particular, published on, states that the professor’s comments violate Cornell’s Policy 6.4 – Prohibited Bias, Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual and Related Misconduct.

“Students should be able to express their religious affiliation on campus without fearing hate crimes. They should also be able to enroll in any and every course without the fear of a professor’s bias toward their protected group affecting their academic assessment or learning environment,” the petition highlighted.

It concludes with an appeal to the university administration to uphold its values by dismissing him.

“There is never a justification for terrorism. We urge the Cornell University administration to consider our petition and uphold our institution’s esteemed values and ethical standards by dismissing Professor Russell Rickford.”

As reported by The Cornell Daily Sun, Rickford initially defended his comments despite the backlash.

Cornell University authorities, including President Martha Pollack, have labeled Rickford’s comments as ‘reprehensible’. They confirm that the matter is pending. “The university is taking this incident seriously and is currently reviewing it consistent with our procedures.”

Implications for Academic Freedom and Responsibility

This incident has reignited discussions around the balance between academic freedom and educators’ responsibility when making public statements.

Universities are often spaces for vigorous debate and discussion. However, such controversies underscore the need for a thoughtful and careful approach when addressing sensitive global issues. 

Rickford’s apology and subsequent discourse have opened a dialogue on the complexities of academic speech, its boundaries, and the responsibilities of educators.

While Cornell University reviews the incident, the academic community watches closely. The outcome will surely have implications for free speech, responsibility, and the broader discourse around these pivotal issues.


This article was produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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