Iris LaTour Chauffe

“September 1975. The University of Texas at San Antonio. First day of class. But not the traditional first day. Today, juniors and seniors walked into classrooms to finally begin that final journey toward the degree they’d begun years earlier. I was 29 years old. I had a husband and two young boys. I was one among grandmothers and grandfathers, young men and young women, middle-aged women and middle-aged men, all returning to college to pursue that elusive college degree. The average age of the students was a bit over 30. I can still feel the adrenaline just remembering the excitement of being back in the classroom!

We were on a first name basis with many of our instructors. English, linguistics and math were my subjects. My favorite instructors were Marjorie Smelstor in English, Helen Dry in linguistics and Dr. Robins in Math.

My first class on that first day of class was English with Dr. Smelstor. Somewhere during that semester, we read poems by Sylvia Plath. One of the students talked about her feelings while reading these poems. I was appalled – I had never discussed my feelings in public. I think I even blushed in shame on behalf of that student.

Then a year later, in another of Dr. Smelstor’s classes, we read “The Enormous Room” by E.E. Cummings. One of the characters was called Surplice, in the sense that he was covered in a garment that hid who he truly was. I identified with that character – I was reading about myself. And I shared those feelings with my fellow classmates, in the classroom, in public. Then I understood for the first time what that other student experienced when reading Sylvia Plath. This, for me, was the single most important experience during my three years at UTSA. A sort of coming of age event.

In my second year at UTSA, I needed a minor. I found Linguistics. This was fascinating and I really “got” things like Noam Chomsky’s Transformational Generative Grammar and Phonetics with Dr. Dry. It was in her class that I wrote a paper on Cajun English, after interviewing several couples in the Evangeline Parish area of south Louisiana. This was one of many fun parts of being at UTSA.

And the Math? That’s what got me a job!

I consider the three years I spent at UTSA to be one of the most exciting times of my life. ”

~ Iris LaTour Chauffe, Class of 1978