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The Dorothy Cotton Institute is a project of the Center for Transformative Action and a Community Partner in the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

Working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as Education Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for eight years during the Freedom Movement, Dorothy F. Cotton led countless sessions of a courageous 5-day popular education intensive called the Citizenship Education Program (CEP) for thousands of activists throughout all of the southern states. DCI has adapted the original design for relevance to contemporary activists. Read more about human rights education and the CEP…(Read more at: dci-human-rights-citizenship-education-program. In 1982 Dorothy moved to Ithaca New York and became the Director of Student Activities at Cornell University. She retired from that position in 1991, and lived in Ithaca until her death in 2018. 

The Dorothy Cotton Institute (DCI) was first conceived in 2007 by Dorothy and a small group of her colleagues. Originally envisioned as a Dorothy Cotton Fellowship, this idea quickly expanded to a small independent institute offering popular education and training to inspire and support people who want to foster and protect human rights and to advance civic participation for social transformation.


  • To develop, nurture and train leaders for a global human rights movement
  • To build a network and community of civil and human rights leadership
  • To explore, share and promote practices that transform individuals and communities, opening new pathways to peace, justice and healing.


The Dorothy Cotton Institute builds on four major opportunities in securing full human rights for all:

The world-wide economic and environmental crises have made the imperatives for change more visible than ever; large numbers of people are open to – and even eager for – new solutions that can offer hope and a sense of belonging to a diverse global community.

There is more widespread activity to achieve human rights and sustainability than at any time in history, yet these efforts are largely disconnected. Integrating these disparate efforts into a popular movement on a global scale is a critical element of successfully addressing many of the major issues facing humanity.

In the United States, human rights tend to be narrowly understood as voting rights, non-discrimination, free speech and freedom from torture. A full understanding must include the political, civil, economic, cultural, social and environmental and survival rights to which all people are also entitled under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bringing the United States back into alliance with the global community will better enable our nation and its citizens to secure and exercise full human rights here at home and to provide credible, effective global leadership. When people are equipped with a working knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as global citizens, they have critical tools with which to insist on a just and life-sustaining political, environmental, economic and social landscape.

The links between academically-based human rights education and practice on the ground can be strengthened, so that law, theory, the best practices of veteran activists and the lessons learned in past struggles are preserved, taught and adapted to the needs of current situations. It is now more possible than ever to create diverse learning communities, to gather and organize the lessons from contemporary social change efforts, and to share them widely with current and developing leaders so that the most promising, tested strategies may be applied to their own efforts to claim and realize full human rights.


Physical Address

Located inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

110 North Tioga Street

(On the Ithaca Commons) 

Ithaca NY, 14850 USA

Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Territory


Exhibit Hall Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm - CLOSED Sun-Tues

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Phone: 607-273-8284


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