Who is Kathy Dettwyler?

Kathy Dettwyler (center, in dress) with students, 2016

During the past few days we’ve been studying the responses of several ethically challenged commentators to the arrest and imprisonment of American student Otto Warmbier – who died on July 19 – by the brutal regime of North Korea, which accused him of removing a propaganda poster from a hotel corridor. Instead of recognizing Warmbier as a victim deserving of sympathy, writers at Salon and Huffington Post, and so-called comedian Larry Wilmore, either criticized him for his supposed disrespect for his totalitarian hosts or made fun of him for having gotten himself into trouble in the Hermit Kingdom in the first place. But worst of all was Kathy Dettwyler, an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware, who on her Facebook page and in a reader comment posted at the website of National Review, actually tore into Warmbier after his death. To their credit, her bosses at the University of Delaware were quick to issue the following statement:

Otto Warmbier at his press conference in North Korea

The comments of Katherine Dettwyler do not reflect the values or position of the University of Delaware. We condemn any and all messages that endorse hatred and convey insensitivity toward a tragic event such as the one that Otto Warmbier and his family suffered.

The University of Delaware values respect and civility and we are committed to global education and study abroad; therefore we find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values. Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.

This statement was soon followed by another one indicating that the university would not be rehiring Dettwyler after the present semester.

Kathy Dettwyler, breastfeeding expert

We were so disgusted by Dettwyler’s remarks about Warmbier that we decided to find out more about her. It turns out that Dettwyler is an “expert” on breastfeeding. She is sometimes described as a “breastfeeding advocate” – which means, basically, that she believes in breastfeeding babies until long after they have ceased to be babies. In one article she suggests that it is reasonable to keep breastfeeding a child until somewhere between the ages of three and eight. A brief career summary: after studying at UC Davis and Indiana University, she has bounced from one college faculty to another – the University of Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M, SUNY Plattsburgh, Millersville University.

University of Delaware

After her remarks about Warmbier made national news, The Review, a newspaper published at the University of Delaware, ran a piece about her stating that she had “earned a reputation” at the college “for incorporating her political beliefs into her teaching.” The article quoted junior Nicolas Diclaudio, who had taken two anthropology courses taught by Dettwyler. According to Diclaudio, Dettwyler “would routinely go on political tangents, oftentimes making derogatory remarks about President Donald Trump and his supporters….Dettwyler’s classroom activity became seriously unacceptable when she began to include her political beliefs in academic assessments, asking questions with intentional ideological bias.”

A question about Donald Trump and his supporters from a test by Dettwyler, along with the “correct” answer: true.

“I would always pick the answer that I knew she wanted because I didn’t want it to affect my grade,” Diclaudio told The Review. “Me and some of my friends would stop going to class and just read the textbook because her lectures got out of hand.” The Review noted that Diclaudio was not surprised by Dettwyler’s remarks about Warmbier; on the contrary, the student referred to Dettwyler’s Facebook post on Warmbier as “The most Kathy thing I’ve ever seen.” Student comments about Dettwyler at the website Rate My Professors confirm Diclaudio’s report: “It’s her opinion or no opinion…will give you attitude if you ask certain questions.” “She is very opinionated and blunt.” “Easily the rudest professor I have had at UD.” “She’s extremely rude.” “Way too opinionated to the point where she becomes unprofessional.” “Very opinionated and can be perceived as rude.” “Very opinionated and rude.” “Extremely strict and rude. She thinks she created Anthropology and hates America….She’s horrible and obnoxious.” “Insufferable. I’ve never experienced a professor who’s as self-important…one of the rudest people I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.” “Unbelievably rude when students disagree with her but she tells us to question authority.”

While various national media failed to get any comment out of Dettwyler, she did respond to an inquiry by The Review, stating that “A couple of students complained about my comments in class about Trump, when what I did was talk about statements he himself had made, and lead the students through and analysis of the underlying cultural beliefs they reflected….This is part of my job as an anthropology professor.”

Salon, Wilmore, HuffPo vs. Otto Warmbier

Otto Warmbier

Yesterday we looked at some of the more repulsive responses to the case of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was arrested last year while on a tour of North Korea and, in June, was returned to the U.S. in a coma and died a few days later. As we’ve seen, a Huffington Post contributor named La Sha was one of several commentators who mocked Warmbier and blamed him for his own fate. Knowing only that Warmbier had been imprisoned for the alleged crime of taking down a propaganda poster, La Sha decided that he was a victim of his own white male privilege. She actually compared him Warmbier to the Aurora, Colorado, mass murderer:

La SHa

When you can watch a white man who entered a theatre and killed a dozen people come out unscathed, you start to believe you’re invincible. When you see a white man taken to Burger King in a bulletproof vest after he killed nine people in a church, you learn that the world will always protect you….What a mind-blowing moment it must be to realize after 21 years of being pedestaled by the world simply because your DNA coding produced the favorable phenotype that such favor is not absolute. What a bummer to realize that even the State Department with all its influence and power cannot assure your pardon. What a wake-up call it is to realize that your tears are met with indifference.

La Sha actually criticized Warmbier for his lack of “respect for the national autonomy” of North Korea. And she concluded her comments by comparing his plight in North Korea to her own situation as a black woman in the United States:

…living 15 years performing manual labor in North Korea is unimaginable, but so is going to a place I know I’m unwelcome and violating their laws. I’m a black woman though. The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense. He is now an outsider at the mercy of a government unfazed by his cries for help. I get it.

Larry Wilmore

Similarly, after Warmbier’s arrest, the terribly unfunny Larry Wilmore, who at the time had a program on Comedy Central, responded to Warmbier’s arrest and show trial by making fun of Warmbier’s name and addressing him, with a sneer, as “frat boy.” Salon agreed, running a piece in which it described Warmbier as “America’s biggest idiot frat boy.” Affinity Magazine, which markets “social justice” to a teenage readership, tweeted a piece of advice that, it argued, Warmbier should have heeded while in North Korea: “Respect their laws.”

But there was, believe it or not, even worse in store. Tune in tomorrow.