Carnegie Mellon University
Isabel Brum headshot

Isabel Brum

Adviser: Lisa Tetrault
Majors: Neuroscience; Ethics, History, and Public Policy

Colonial Politics in Public Health: How Colonialism Has Shaped Women’s Health in Puerto Rico

This senior thesis project will take the form of a historical research synthesis. Together with the faculty advisor, the student researcher will explore how public policy in Puerto Rico has affected women’s health by centering Puerto Rico’s status as a colony to explore how it has shaped public health policies and attitudes around women’s health. The timeframe will be limited to the United States colonial period (1989-present). In particular, the historical analysis will focus on Operation Bootstrap (~1940’s) which was an economic plan aimed at restructuring the Puerto Rican economy by shifting it from agrarian to industrialized. For reasons that remain unclear, the economic and public policy shift that occurred alongside Operation Bootstrap led to a disregard of the public health sector. Therefore, this research will piece together the historical events that shaped the period in which Operation Bootstrap was developed and its subsequent effects on public health. Since women’s health has been particularly marginalized and women in Puerto Rico have been left particularly vulnerable, the research will center matters that have impacted women’s health.


Isabel is very interested in public health and understanding how public policy interfaces with community health and affects people’s behavior. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, she is passionate about topics that uniquely impact her home communities. Isabel hopes to continue pursuing an education in public health and international development after graduating from Carnegie Mellon and later return to Puerto Rico. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities—like kayaking and camping— and going to concerts with her friends.