Secret lives of our profs

Nicole Capozziello

While Alison Guenther-Pal’s path to Lawrence wasn’t the most direct, it was incredibly rewarding. A fellow in German and film studies, as well as an affiliated member of the gender studies program, she has found that it happens to be possible to study and teach what she loves and that she loves doing so at Lawrence.
“What drew me to the two disciplines [German and film studies] is really early family history,” said Guenther-Pal, whose mother is German.
Growing up in the L.A. area in a family involved in the film industry, Guenther-Pal couldn’t help but be intrigued by the nature of illusion, an interest born out of her proximity to the lure of cinema.
“I was really interested in real-looking worlds that are actually fictional,” she said, displaying the infectious passion that permeates all of her classes. “I couldn’t help but think about illusion.”
Always a professor, Guenther-Pal added, “Philosopher Slavoj Zizek says that we should not just look at the illusion of reality, but the reality of the illusion. It’s this dynamic that I like to explore with students.”
Guenther-Pal ended up on a practical route for undergrad, going on to study biology at UC-Santa Cruz while studying language on the side.
For seven years after graduation, she worked out of Silicon Valley in the biotechnology field before seeking what she calls “intellectual freedom.”
“I wanted to decide what to study versus someone else telling me what to study,” she stated. With this in mind, Guenther-Pal went on to get her master’s and doctorate in German and feminist studies from the University of Minnesota.
During her time in graduate school, she was also lucky enough to spend a year in Berlin, doing research for her dissertation in film archives and lesbian and gay archives. Combining many longstanding interests, Guenther-Pal completed her dissertation on the representation of homosexuality in different facets of the media in 1950s West Germany.
While working on her doctorate, Guenther-Pal taught at the University of Minnesota as well as at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict.
After receiving her doctorate, Guenther-Pal was offered a fellowship position here, which she began in the fall of 2007. She is thrilled to teach at Lawrence, where she feels the very mission of the university encompasses and encourages creativity. “I love being part of the process of discovery,” said Guenther-Pal.
Since film is a developing interdisciplinary area at Lawrence, Guenther-Pal has been invigorated by the fresh interest of students to both study film and make films of their own.
In addition to teaching courses in German, film studies and gender studies, she is constantly receiving and carrying out tutorial requests ranging in subject from Disney films to German monster movies.
When not teaching, Guenther-Pal enjoys spending time with her rat terriers, Kermit, named for the pun value of saying “Kermit the dog,” and Lilo, named for an obscure Swiss actress.
Not surprisingly, she also spends much of her free time watching films, her all-time favorites being Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” and “whatever film” she’s currently teaching. Her favorite book is Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex.”
After her fellowship at Lawrence, Guenther-Pal hopes to continue teaching at a liberal arts college, as she has loved the experience of offering a wide variety of courses to students who value a liberal education.