At any given moment, chances are that Sophie Kubik ’23 is contemplating philosophy — even when they’re swimming. “I would run straight from [Assistant Professor of Philosophy Lauren] Leydon-Hardy’s ‘Theory of Knowledge’ class to my practice,” Kubik told me, laughing. “I would be sprinting to the pool, deep in the epistemology, and I [would] dive in, thinking about skepticism.”
Kubik’s intellectual curiosity doesn’t cease when they exit the classroom — it infiltrates every aspect of their life.
But this isn’t the only liberal-arts ideal that the varsity-swimmer-turned-philosopher has fulfilled in her time at Amherst. Kubik has also become a vital campus leader and advocate, heading a charge to make the realms of her two greatest passions — swimming and philosophy — more queer-inclusive and accessible to people, like herself, whose identities transcend the binary.
As we chatted on a slow Thursday morning, I came to understand how Kubik’s time at Amherst has shaped them into the person they are today: It was only through exploration, conviction, and perseverance that Kubik was able to become the confident, passionate leader she now is.
Goats, Nietzsche, and a Leap of Faith
Kubik grew up on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Berthoud, Colorado, a rural farm town. Growing up in this locale was a bittersweet experience, Kubik admitted to me — in Berthoud, people had very different backgrounds, goals, and dreams than the people they would come to meet at Amherst. Though she appreciated her humble upbringing, Kubik found it incredibly difficult to navigate her identity and beliefs in the town’s conservative atmosphere.
It didn’t help that Berthoud’s public school system, which Kubik attended, was underfunded and didn’t offer much in terms of academic exploration. But with both her parents holding humanities doctorates, the family dinner table served as Kubik’s early intellectual playground — the conversations always had a philosophical undercurrent.
When Kubik would come home and tell their parents what they had learned in her U.S. history class that day, their parents would ask thought-provoking questions, like “Why do you think this event happened?” or “How could that historical figure justify their actions?” In these casual conversations, Kubik gained confidence in developing their own opinions, and defending them with arguments.
Even as a middle schooler, they felt comfortable asserting the pretentiousness of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas after reading a copy of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” gifted by her father. These experiences helped them develop an unrelenting impulse to dig for answers to the “whys” of all life’s mysteries — which would eventually prove valuable in and out of Amherst’s classrooms.
Kubik’s time at Amherst, however, originated from her other passion: swimming. Ever since she was a child, Kubik was drawn to the peace of being in the water. “I feel like water is just one big hug,” Kubik said. “I feel at home.”
When it came time to think about college, Kubik decided she no longer wanted to live in a small, rural town. She also sought a balance between academic rigor and athletic opportunity — so she looked to NCAA Division III schools. After talking with various coaches, she landed on the University of Chicago, but the recruitment process did not go as hoped. Despite receiving support from the coach, Kubik’s application to UChicago was waitlisted. That application season turned out to be a disappointing one for Kubik. With the encouragement of Amherst Swimming Coach Nick Nichols, however, she decided to take a leap of faith: She would take a gap year and try again.
This gap year turned out to be an incredibly formative experience. After working on a successful midterm election for Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, Kubik used the money they earned to go backpacking, on their own, in France and Spain. In addition to the museums and festivals, Kubik was fascinated by the different sorts of people she encountered in the hostels. “To meet people out of their own contexts,” Kubik said, “it makes you want to put yourself out there that much more.” The gap year experience also taught Kubik to not take their education for granted, and they were ready to make the best of what college has to offer.
At the end of their gap year, after visiting several Division III schools, Kubik found themself somewhere familiar: a small, rural town — this time, in Western Massachusetts.
Finding an Intrepid, Humble Voice
When I asked Assistant Professor of Philosophy Lauren Leydon-Hardy to describe Kubik, in a dim corner of Amherst Coffee, she lit up and said, “Oh, Kubik is an intrepid animal!” As a captain of the college’s women’s swim and dive team, president of the Queer Athlete Alliance, and former president of the French House, Kubik has proved themself a campus leader many times over. Still, it took Kubik time to grow into their voice.
Kubik recalled that the initial transition to Amherst was a bit jarring. Despite having read extensively, Kubik felt that her education at Berthoud’s underfunded public school did not nearly prepare her for the academic challenges of Amherst, compared to her peers.
As time went on, though, Kubik began to see her small-town background as less of an obstacle to her confidence, and more so as a source of her unique perspective. She took the first major step in finding her voice (literally) in Amherst’s Annual College Speaking Competition the spring of her first year, titled “Justice.”
Kubik delivered a forceful yet compelling speech about educational justice and the importance of instituting an inheritance tax, which reflected on the privilege she and her peers held as Amherst students, while friends back home struggled to pay rent. The speech ended up winning Kubik the Kellogg Prize, but more importantly, she found fulfillment in sharing her experiences and exposing Amherst students to a reality that many Americans live in.
It was her teammates and coaches on the swimming team that helped Kubik find the confidence to give voice to another part of her identity — her queerness.
Kubik, who uses she/they pronouns, recalled that when she first joined the swim team, it was a very heteronormative environment. She didn’t come out to her teammates until Abby LeCates ’20, then a senior captain on the swimming team, organized a pride meet. “I realized that, oh my god, Abby’s out and everyone loves Abby,” Kubik said. “If I come out, it’s not going to be super weird.”
Following the pride meet, Kubik grew increasingly comfortable with being out, both on the swim team and in other areas of campus life. From then on, Kubik was also determined to change the highly heteronormative space of the swim team, and athletics more broadly, on campus. In their junior year, when swimming resumed from the long pandemic hiatus, Kubik got involved with the Queer Resource Center (QRC) and organized that year’s pride meet for the swim team.
The director of the QRC, J.T. Martin, encouraged Kubik to revive what is now known as the Queer Athlete Alliance (QAA). After getting a lot of interest, Kubik began organizing the club. They meet with administration regularly to organize educational programs, poster campaigns, or bring up problems in Amherst’s athletic program.
“[The QAA] has also just been a lovely community,” Kubik said. “There’s something so comforting about being in a space where being queer and being an athlete is not a dichotomy.” Kubik has taken joy in helping foster queer spaces within the swim team — and the broader athletic community — in her time at the college. “Our pride meets are glowing and festive, and Coach Nichols is our number one ally,” Kubik said with excitement.
Kubik has many stellar achievements, yet her friends also told me that much of her work on campus is behind the scenes. “A lot of what she does goes unrecognized,” said fellow swimmer Fyn Nandel ’26, “like going to the administration and advocating for [the swimming team].”
One of Kubik’s fellow philosophy majors, Gillan Chalono ’23, agreed. “Kubik genuinely cares about making improvements in the community, [even when they] are going to garner her absolutely no credit or clout,” he said, pointing to this year’s Philosophy Senior Thesis Symposium, which Kubik had pitched as an idea and eventually helped organize. Kubik was inspired by a desire to make philosophy more accessible on campus.
The symposium was a successful and meaningful event. When I arrived, unfortunately 10 minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Paino Lecture Hall packed with students supporting their friends. People even took notes, enthralled by the range and depth of the department’s thesis writers, Kubik included. With courage, humility, and self-exploration, Kubik has found an intrepid voice and used it to improve the campus community again and again.
Philosophy and Beyond
To this day, Kubik doesn’t see a firm boundary between her daily life and her intellectual exploration — her experiences inform her philosophy, and vice versa. “[Kubik] feels her work on a really personal level,” Leydon-Hardy said. “That has the effect of her coming to her work with a sense of urgency, and that makes her work better.”
Her philosophical disposition is even reflected in her gender expression. For instance, Kubik said that her pronouns are “a philosophical statement on the complexity and ambiguity of gender as much as a practical tool of reference.”
"I’ve always felt fairly detached from femininity, and feel it only strongly when in solidarity with women facing oppression,” she added. “I am certainly my mother’s daughter and my grandmother’s granddaughter, but I am also unapologetically queer and challenge the gender binary with my existence as well as through my philosophical commitments."
A journey into philosophy perhaps makes sense in hindsight, but having a mother that teaches the subject, Kubik entered Amherst resistant to this “nepotism” and planned to major in history. “[For] my first advising meeting, I walked into [Assistant Professor of Philosophy Rafeeq Hasan’s] office and literally went, ‘I’m not going to be a philosophy major,’” she recalled.
Despite gaining an appreciation for practical philosophy in Professor Hasan’s “Introduction to Political Philosophy” class, Kubik decided to take time off from philosophy the next semester. However, during that semester, Kubik realized they missed studying it. Another semester and two more philosophy classes later, Kubik declared the major.
In their Instagram bio, Kubik describes themself as “a walking thesis for determinism,” an epithet that Kubik’s friend and fellow philosophy major Ethan Samuels ’24E had jokingly attributed to her for their path to philosophy.
At the core, Kubik finds the value of philosophical work lies in its help for us to understand the world around us and our beliefs. “I have deep-seated moral convictions, like equality, that, upon further reflection, are really hard to justify,” Kubik said.
Their thesis explores this separation between our moral intuitions and what is rationally justifiable — especially along the lines of different conceptions of equality. “I wanted to zero in on ‘social’ equality — what it means for people to relate as equals,” Kubik told me. “Most people really care about humans having equal respect and dignity, but they can’t really explain why.” They concluded that we must commit to the practice of holding each other to be equals before we can develop shared principles of justice. In other words, to realize justice, we must become equals.
Kubik is graduating from Amherst, magna cum laude, in philosophy and will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in political theory at Oxford University next year. Since the MPhil program is housed in the Politics Department rather than the Philosophy Department, Kubik hopes to ground her theoretical interests in a more rigorous understanding of historical and contemporary politics. When talking about her plans after the MPhil, Kubik said she is unsure what’s next, but she hopes to work in academia and perhaps teach philosophy in the middle of nowhere. “I would love to just become a Prof. Leydon-Hardy variant,” Kubik told me, laughing.