Witnessing History

A Longtime Educator Traces Her Commitment to Equity

Carolyn Wilkins-Santos in grad regaliaCarolyn Wilkins-Santos (formerly Wilkins-Greene) retired from De Anza College in 2019, after nearly two decades as dean of Social Sciences and Humanities – one of the largest academic divisions at the college.

Wilkins-Santos has a family history of working for civil rights. While a college student at the University of Texas, she joined "stand-ins" to protest discrimination at movie theaters and other businesses. Later, as an educator, she promoted multiculturalism and opportunities for all students. A longtime leader in equity issues at De Anza, she is also a musician and pianist.

She was interviewed by historian and retired De Anza faculty member David Howard-Pitney on July 30, 2021, for the the California History Center’s Witnessing History project.

Growing Up in Segregated Texas

As a native Texan, '60s-era college student and longtime educator, Carolyn Wilkins-Santos speaks from personal experience about many aspects of the post-World War II civil rights movement.

During her interview for the Witnessing History series, she discussed the high expectations that her family had for her, as well as her family's heritage of civic engagement and civil rights work. She also spoke about her own early experiences with segregation, her involvement in integration and civil rights activism at the University of Texas at Austin, and her career in multiculturalism as a teacher and dean at De Anza College.

As Wilkins-Santos tells it, her parents and great-grandmother (whom she calls her grandmother), “set very high expectations” for her in all things, but especially education: “They wanted us to excel in whatever we did.”

She recalled working hard and striving for straight A’s. Even if in the end you didn’t achieve every goal, what mattered was that you had done your very best, she was taught.

Wilkins-Santos credited her grandmother with inspiring her to become a teacher. “She envisioned me as a teacher and therefore ... I envisioned myself” as capable of being one.

This story is told in four parts:

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