The Art of Philosophy | Nicole Dular embraces fashion and feminism to push boundaries [Cover]

Possibly the first thing you'd notice about assistant professor of philosophy Nicole Dular is her bright purple balayage hair, the noise her heels make on the tiles in Old Main, or even her new red blouse.

But behind the new outfits and the bold lipsticks is Dular's passion for understanding the world in which we live.


Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Dular first got interested in philosophy when taking an elective in high school.

After finding a passion for the study, she decided to continue her education at The New School in New York City.

She then continued to Brandeis University in Boston where she received her master's degree and Syracuse University in New Work where she obtained her doctorate.

During her doctorate studies, she was able to independently teach her own course.

"I realized that the importance and the value of doing this work is in terms of teaching and being able to affect young people and open their minds in certain ways," she said.

Originally, she was interested in metaethics and ended up writing her dissertation over the topic where she explored questions about morals and reasoning.

Over time, she became interested in other areas of philosophy, including feminist philosophy and oppression. She has published three articles focusing on feminist philosophy topics, ranging from understanding mansplaining to exploring why women "ghost" men.

She decided to incorporate feminist philosophy and oppression discussions into her courses.

"I think, especially teaching feminist philosophy, the thing that I value the most is having these moments where students come to make sense of their own experiences in their world," she said.

Because she was so interested in analyzing metaethics, the idea to teach and learn more about marginalized groups didn't come until later in her career.

As she began researching these topics, she understood that philosophy seeks to not only learn about the oppression in the world, but explain why it happens and understand how to prevent it in the future.

"This is what I think makes a philosophy relevant," she said. "It's fine to do work in philosophy that has no real upshots to the actual world. But the important stuff is trying to make sense of our world and for me especially, trying to make sense of the problems in the world."

Whether her class is learning about ethics or oppression, she still thinks there's something everyone can take away from a philosophy course.

"The benefit of doing any philosophy is being able to think very critically and being able to see the world in a different way. And I think that both of those can be very empowering," she said.


Although Dular is passionate about philosophy, something else she is passionate about, and something students remember about her, is fashion.

She's been interested in fashion since she was a little kid and played dress up in plastic dollar store heels.

As she got older, she would spend time in her local Borders bookstore and read Vogue, then go to thrift stores to try and find clothes that were in trend.

During the fall semester, Dular taught a first year seminar class about fashion, where students explored how fashion plays a role in identity and expression.

"There's this great quote by Oscar Wilde that says, ‘One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art,' and I think about that a lot," she said.

During her philosophy courses, she asks students what they think a typical philosopher looks like. She said a common answer is an old man with white hair wearing an old tweed jacket with elbow patches.

But when you look at Dular, you get the exact opposite.

“I think its important to provide students with examples of things that clash with their stereotypical understanding of what the world is like,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, women make up as little as 20% of those studying philosophy. Dular said she’s used to being one of the only women in the room, but that she doesn’t let other’s ideas of what a philosopher looks like hold her back.

Although Dular isn’t what someone would imagine a philosopher looking like, she said her fun means of self-expression don’t impact her ability to be professional or a great philosopher.

“I don’t think it undermines my credibility at all, I’m not really worried about that,” she said. “I think my training and my work and my skills speak for itself and I just feel comfortable enough to dress however I want.”

She said her job as a philosopher is to look at societal norms and treat them with suspicion. This includes the idea that bold outfits, makeup and hair might be considered unprofessional in some settings.

“I think a lot of norms about appearance actually function to police certain marginalized groups from entering in success and to different disciplines,” she said. “I think it’s important to challenge those when we can.”

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