#1817 Educated: A Memoir. (2018). Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 332 pp. ISBN: 978-0-399-59050-4. Price $28

Raquel Fong, Office of Student Services, Arizona State University, [email protected]

Students come to college with a myriad of experiences, backgrounds, and skills. Resultantly, many higher education institutions offer resources to help guide and support students in their academic, vocational, and personal development. Such structure assumes that support services can meet all the needs of students and that all students need the same type of support. Additionally, this structure operates under the assumption that students can assess their own needs and have the self-awareness and regulation to seek the appropriate support.

Under these structures and assumptions, students may struggle to navigate the roadmap of college. The captivating memoir of Tara Westover recounted her upbringing and educational journey. Her story is powerful because it is unconventional by societal norms and puts into consideration how institutions are designed and who they are intended to serve. Without a formal PK-12 education, Westover’s transition to college and her navigational skills were evident in her first semester when she enrolled in an upper division course, did not know what the Holocaust was in her history class, and thought her art class involved looking at art rather than reading the required textbook. Ultimately, Westover was academically successful in her first and subsequent semesters by learning strategies such as utilizing office hours, enlisting help from peers, and having a strong work ethic. However, as her collegiate journey progressed, Westover struggled to understand herself in an environment vastly different from her upbringing.  

Westover’s memoir is a story of becoming. From an academic advising perspective, it is imperative to understand what students bring to college and the numerous transitions that ensue. In her first semester, Westover resisted the influence of change and judged others who were different from her, but ultimately, sought to break free from her old self. However, she continuously reverted to aspects of her old self when she went back home. She struggled with feelings of guilt and loyalty towards her family, especially her parents, resulting in a wrestling match of being empowered to take control over her life and the power she gave her parents to control her life.

In sharing her story, she described experiences that gave readers insights to her sources of courage, curiosity, and determination that propelled her to break free from her familial expectations, which resulted in her persistence and academic success. Over time, she negotiated how to accept her past and construct a future that integrated and leveraged her education to help her become the person she wanted to become. Over time, she learned that distancing herself from her past life prompted a sense of clarity and acceptance towards the power of education as the key to unlocking self-transformation, self-acceptance and self-love.

As part of the academic advising community, we can further question our own assumptions and find ways to create an environment tailored to the meet the individual needs of each student. Generally, academic advising is an inherently structured support service with the potential to cultivate such environment. By understanding and listening to student stories, academic advisors can minimize assumptions and tailor their advising approach to change the landscape of a student’s collegiate journey leading to their academic, vocational, and personal success. This memoir is a token that engrosses readers to reimagine academic advising practices and consider the diversity of the students we serve.


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