Stone, in Hamilton, Bermuda, January 14. (Image: Meredith Andrews)

In late November, the Rhodes Trust named Isabelle Stone ’18 a 2019 Rhodes Scholar. Stone, who majored in economics and minored in philosophy and Faith, Peace, and Justice, is Boston College’s third recipient of the prestigious award; in 2003, the scholarship, which carries the opportunity for advanced study at Oxford University, went to Paul Taylor ’04 and Brett Huneycutt ’03. (Taylor is now a researcher at the National Institutes of Health’s brain imaging lab and Huneycutt is cofounder and chief operating officer of the online investment management service Wealthsimple.) Contributing editor Zachary Jason spoke by phone with Stone, who has been working as an analyst for Bermuda-based Nephila Capital, a firm specializing in reinsurance. Their conversation has been edited for length.

Where is home, for you?

I was born in the U.K., and both my parents are British and lawyers. We moved to Bermuda in 1999, when I was three, so it’s the only home I’ve known.

There’s a big international business sector in Bermuda—mainly, insurance and reinsurance. And there was a wave of immigration in the 1990s, from the U.K., U.S., and Canada, of people going to work in those industries. The average immigrant on the island makes more than $100,000 and is white. There are white Bermudians too, but the local community is majority black.

How did your experience in Boston shape your view of Bermuda?

I’ve had a lot of privilege. I went to private school. I’m trying to think of a way to say this. There are 65,000 people on the island. Bermuda is a mile wide and it’s 20 miles long, and the inequality is right in your face. At Boston College, especially in my philosophy and my Faith, Peace, and Justice classes, we were asked to consider how race fits into our personal story and the places where we grew up. I had classmates from Chicago, from Milwaukee, and they had such different interactions with race and immigration.

Being able to combine my studies in economics and statistics with this personal analysis solidified in my mind what side of the economic sphere I want to be on: I don’t want to contribute to inequality. I’ve seen the huge dividends and bonuses in the private sector. I want to go into the public policy sector, where I can contribute to eradicating Bermuda’s inequalities.

Bermuda is a British protectorate. In my senior economics thesis, I looked into the role of colonialism in explaining income inequality today. A lot of past economic studies have focused on how colonialism leads to the economic success of a country, measured by variables such as GDP. They look at the overall economic performance, without looking at the internal economic performance, including the disparity between the descendants of indigenous populations and descendants of European settlers.

There are a lot of calls for independence within Bermuda right now, and my project helped me reflect on the emotions behind those calls. Becoming independent would surely scare off investors. And we’d lose the educational privilege of studying in the U.K. at the British-student rate. But seeing the gross inequality linked to our colonial past helped me understand why we would want to give those up.

My philosophy classes at Boston College were very service-oriented, especially the Faith, Peace, and Justice ones. My service with the homeless population in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood forced me to hear the stories and see the faces behind the statistics you read in economics—to understand how many factors go into the struggle for success in education, for example. Economics can sometimes be a pretty black-and-white subject, and, for me, service gave it more color.

I read that you came to Boston College with a desire to get a high-paying finance job.

It’s the culture. Public service isn’t really valued in Bermuda. I can’t remember anyone from my high school class wanting to go into teaching or government.

But service has always been a part of my life and always will be. I thought I could go into a high-paying job and find worth in my outside activities, whether donating to charity or starting a charity or doing service work after I retire. I came to the conclusion that doing charity on the side is not sufficient for me, when I can do economic studies, bring my findings to the public service sector, and help not just one or two people, but, in the macro scheme of things, future generations.

When and how did you first consider a Rhodes Scholarship?

It was after my sophomore year. I’d just quit my math major, and I was telling a professor from high school how I’d gotten into philosophy and was doing a lot of service work. And she said, oh, you should go for the Rhodes. I had heard of it in terms of Bill Clinton and [former Labor Secretary] Robert Reich, so I did some research, and it seemed to be the meeting of all things that I cared about. A lot of scholarships are strictly academic awards or strictly for leadership. I wanted to combine academics with service work and be a leader in the world’s fights. The Rhodes just fit.

Do you remember your initial reaction when you found out you got the Rhodes?

I applied in 2017 for the first time, and I didn’t get it. They call you if you get it and they email if you don’t. So this time I was waiting for a call, but also looking at my email. My mom phoned to say the director of the Rhodes had been trying to call me. It was about five minutes before I could get through to him. And then, yeah, it was just elation. Now I have to get into Oxford, and I’m having to take the GRE test.

What do you hope to learn at Oxford?

The way the Oxford system works, the vast majority of my learning will be through tutorials—intensive training with a don—tailored to my interests.

Bermuda’s not great about keeping statistics. Economics is an undervalued profession. I’d love to do census work on the demographics of economic disparity, incorporating race, age, and gender. The new government in Bermuda is planning tax reform and a spending overhaul, and I want to see how those contribute to the disposable income of certain populations and to wage disparities—to get a better idea of where I should focus my time. A lot of factors go into income inequality. The public education system is in disarray; we’ve had about 20 different ministers of education in the past 15 years. We also have rising healthcare costs, and an aging population. Who’s going to pay for our pensions? There’s the issue of crime. Bermuda has a large incidence of gun crime for its size.

I want to monitor the policy that’s going to be made while I’m at Oxford and study the impacts. I want to define a role for economists in the public sphere.

What challenges or setbacks did you overcome to get to this point?

The obvious one (laughter): I didn’t get the Rhodes in 2017. At first, I was demoralized, because I’d spent four months, every day, preparing for my application. I felt like I’d wasted half of my senior year.

But with hindsight, I realized how much the application process solidified what I want to do with my life. For the personal statement, a thousand words, they ask you questions like, Where do you see yourself in five years? How are you going to contribute to the world? I had to think, What really is the story of me? Where do my strengths lie?

People used to say to me it was strange that I studied economics and philosophy. Applying for the Rhodes made me more confident: They do fit together. This is the path for me.