I understand the power of academic freedom. The most powerful and political choice you can make is what book you're going to teach, what author you're going to share with your students.

Fernando Blanco

"The main question I ask my students is, what brought you here?," says Professor Fernando Blanco, Spanish. "It doesn't matter what class I'm teaching — there's always a question about what's your place in the world and how have you arrived at this place.

"I grew up under a dictatorship, 17 years of it," he continues. "So for me, working towards the common good, toward the protection of democracy or to understand the real value of democracy, and thinking about the weight the past has on your present and future decisions was something that was always on my horizon."

Blanco grew up in Chile during the authoritarian regime of Augusto Pinochet, and by 9 years old had come to the realization that there were more ways of seeing the past than the official state-sanctioned version of events.

"I couldn't believe that there was only one way to see things, that there was only one truth," he says. "That shaped my approach to the classroom. I understand the power of academic freedom. The most powerful and political choice you can make is what book you're going to teach, what author you're going to share with your students. That is the moment when you either perpetuate a system or challenge the status quo."

Blanco's past also strongly influences his research into memory studies and sexuality studies, specifically how traumatic events influence narratives of our past.

"I'm intrigued by that process," he says. "What part is pure imagination, what part is fiction. Or maybe imagination is the real truth. If someone tells you what they saw, coming up with factual evidence that says otherwise doesn't mean they're lying. That person is not lying. They're telling you a truth that is a different truth."

Blanco encourages students to express their personal narratives to help shape their own learning process as well as those of their classmates.

"You need to learn to share and trust in an honest way with everyone who's sitting with you for 50 minutes. This human interaction — this is life, not just school. You cannot disconnect school from all your other selves. Bring all of them here. If we don't know you, were not going to be able to actually have a meaningful interaction. I don't want you to be robots. I want you to be humans."

Updated Sept. 29, 2016

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