Working for Equity
Making a Career of Fighting the Good Fight
Carolyn Wilkins-Santos returned to her multicultural teaching vocation when she was hired at De Anza College in 1989.
At De Anza, she initially taught half-time in the Intercultural and International Studies Division, while devoting the other half of her time to serving as the college’s Affirmative Action Leadership Chair.
She also helped spearhead De Anza initiatives to infuse multiculturalism throughout the college curriculum.
In addition, she launched an innovative project to encourage Black students’ success in math, which she named Math Performance Success.
Wilkins-Santos continued to teach in Intercultural and International Studies at De Anza until 2002, when she became dean of the Social Sciences and Humanities Division.
She was the first female and the first person of color to hold that leadership position. After a distinguished tenure, Wilkins-Santos retired from De Anza College in 2019.
When asked her advice for today’s youth who are seeking to oppose racism and injustice, Wilkins-Santos recommended that they think carefully and strategically about their actions.
One should join with like-minded students to decide thoughtfully how best to bring positive change, she believes.
She also stressed that, even when working for social progress, students should never neglect their studies, as education is paramount to one’s opportunities and success in life.
Finally, Wilkins-Santos advised students to aim high in their educational and vocational goals and not just “settle” for something.
Having confidence in yourself, that you can do more than you might initially think, is paramount to a path forward. Students should strive to succeed in any field, she added, but especially in math and science, regarding which many students of color may doubt themselves.
Wilkins-Santos urged Black students, and all students, to stretch their intellectual muscles and aim high.
As her family instilled confidence in her as a youth, she extends this message to today’s youth: Set high goals and know that, "You're very capable of doing extremely well."
About the Project
Carolyn 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 a teacher and dean, she promoted multiculturalism and opportunities for all students. A leader in equity issues at the college, 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, as part of the California History Center’s Witnessing History project.
This story is told in four parts:
- Part 1: Growing Up in Segregated Texas
- Part 2: Family and Early Influences
- Part 3: Standing for Civil Rights
- Part 4: From Deep South to De Anza