Rachel Otwell

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community & diverse culture. 

She's a graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield, and while obtaining that degree she spent a legislative session covering news for Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, D.C. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

States like Hawaii, South Dakota and Alaska have replaced Columbus Day with the designation of ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.' It's a trend that goes back decades, and in 2017 a law was signed that brought Illinois up to speed with that trend. Sort of.

Flickr Commons: Public Domain

The next debate for Illinois nominees for governor is this Wednesday in Chicago. But two candidates are being left out this time around.

At an NBC Chicago roundtable last month, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner sparred with state Senator Sam McCann, who is running under the banner of the Conservative party.  That's something that won't be happening at the forthcoming debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, since McCann and Grayson "Kash" Jackson, the Libertarian nominee, did not meet the criteria to attend.

 

There are two third party candidates for Illinois governor. And while four names will be on the ballot November 6th (or now, if you choose to vote early) - the efforts to get out messaging is one where odds are certainly stacked heavily against Sam McCann of the Conservative party, and Grayson "Kash" Jackson, running as a Libertarian.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

The Illinois Governor’s Mansion is recently renovated and has re-opened for tourists, who tend to go for the historical significance. There’s also a new reason for art enthusiasts to check it out.

Russell Hurst

Earlier this month, we reported on the 1908 Race Riot in Springfield and what's being done to remember and reconcile 110 years after the violence broke out. As part of that reporting, we spoke with Kelly Wickham Hurst, CEO and founder of the advocacy organization Being Black at School.

FLICKR User Brianna Laugher

Planned Parenthood of Illinois is speaking out against proposed changes to the only federal program that provides funding for birth control. Those changes include a so-called "gag rule" that could affect thousands of Illinois residents.

A first-of-its kind study is being done to track ticks in Illinois. Researchers want to know where certain illness-carrying types are most prevalent.

FLICKR User Victoria Pickering

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Trump's so-called travel or Muslim ban. A proposal that passed the Illinois General Assembly aims to protest that policy.

In Illinois, a proposal called the Anti-Registry Act would prevent state officials and agencies from assisting in federal efforts to collect demographic information of people based on their religion or national origin.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

As news has centered on the plight of hundreds of families who have been separated while trying to enter the US through Mexico, concern has been raised over the ultimate destiny of about 1,500 children being held in detention centers and shelters. There are at least 66 of those children in Chicago, according to Heartland Alliance, a non-profit with nine shelters for unaccompanied minors there.

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

Immigrants' rights advocates are close to celebrating what they consider a win in Illinois, especially for domestic abuse survivors. They are hoping Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign 'The Voices Act' soon, as it passed out of the state's General Assembly during the final days of the spring legislative session.

Eric Rogers / NPR Illinois

A theatrical and punk rock venture in Champaign–Urbana has become an empowering part of the arts scene there.

Madeleine Wolske, whose wrestling persona is known as Dewy Decimator, heads CLAW. Wolske explains her character as a "librarian from hell."

She says that, since its inception in 2015, CLAW has become a colorful part of the local community. "The majority of large shows we do are benefits," said Wolske. "We’re wrestling in order to give back to the community."

On Wednesday, Illinois ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed change to the U.S. Constitution — 46 years after Congress approved it.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Governor Bruce Rauner has signed an executive order he says will mean more minority-owned businesses will get government contracts. But some are skeptical about his true intentions.

A measure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment got approval from an Illinois House committee Wednesday, in what could be the final step before it's called for a decisive vote in that chamber.  

The measure has already passed the state Senate. Opponents argue it could mandate government funded abortions and force co-ed prison populations.

Chief sponsor and Democratic representative from Skokie, Lou Lang, says two of his colleagues told him they're worried a "yes" vote could be used against them in future campaigns.

Flickr User SOUNDFROMWAYOUT / (CC X 2.0)

Chris Quintana covers "culture wars" on college campuses and other news for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He was intrigued by the story of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's one-time icon, Chief Illiniwek.

Flickr User Tabor Roeder / (CC x 2.0)

Legislators of both parties are calling on Governor Bruce Rauner to voice support for the Equal Rights Amendment. While a ratification proposal passed the state Senate, it has yet to be called for a vote in the House, where it appears there may not yet be enough votes to gain the supermajority needed. But what's really at stake?

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

A decades-long battle for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is still pushing on. On Tuesday, supporters traveled from different areas of the state to urge lawmakers to act.

The congressional deadline to pass the ERA was 1982. The amendment would add language to the U.S. Constitution saying rights should not be denied on account of sex.

Flickr User Benson Kua / (CC x 2.0)

LGBTQ rights advocates have been pushing a measure they say would amend school code in a way that would be beneficial when it comes to noting the community's role in state and national history. Last week those representing groups like Equality Illinois urged lawmakers to pass the proposal, which has yet to reach a vote outside of committee.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

The Equal Rights Amendment, commonly referred to as the ERA, aims to end the legal distinction between men and women, something supporters say would enhance equality when it comes to issues like equal pay. Congress approved it in 1972, and then it went to the states for ratification. 38 states had to approve it by 1982, a deadline set by Congress. It fell short by three.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

As we near the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the Sangamon County Metro 4-H Program recognized him with a "Selma Re-Enactment March." Students marched from Chamberlain Park to the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

The 1965 March to Selma from Montgomery was focused on the Voting Rights Act, which ultimately passed that year. The march has a bloody history - one worth exploring according to Beriah Hemingway, who goes to Lanphier High School.

BLAKE WOOD

The nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, and Illinois police officials announced Thursday an agreed upon resolution they say took years to hash out.

The "affirmation of shared principles" was inspired in part by the death of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

 

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Hundreds of people descended on the statehouse Wednesday to urge legislators to pass stricter gun regulations.

Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense has chapters across the country. It was founded in 2012 as a response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Member Lindsay Aikman is a high school teacher in Champaign. She said it's heartening to see students from Florida demand government action in the wake of a shooting that killed 17 of their peers.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as well as the 2016 election, have sparked renewed passion for electing women to office in Illinois.

It's a cold, slushy weeknight as about 50 people pour into the community room of a Springfield grocery store on the west end of town. They're making protest signs for the second annual Women's March. Two friends sit in a corner using cutout letters and permanent marker. Business owner Katie Dobron is writing, "Vote women in."

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner likely considered the upcoming election while crafting the State of the State Address he gave Wednesday. There's a host of Democratic candidates vying to unseat him - and a single Republican who says she wants to get him out the way during the primary this March. They too are sticking to campaign points.

Advocates say progress was made this year when it comes to rights of Illinois residents who are LGBTQ+.

Democrats hoping to unseat Gov. Bruce Rauner will attend a forum tonight in Chicago at a church on Michigan Avenue.

Anthony Galloway is the director of civic engagement for Equality Illinois. He says it's important to hear what the candidates have already done to help promote LGBTQ rights. 

"So our goal in this activity is to educate our constituents," Galloway said, "as well as educate the candidates on issues of impact within the LGBTQ community."

UIUC School Of Social Work

About a hundred students traveled to Washington D.C. last week to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act. Among them was Bruna Cardoso, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate student.

Across the country, some cities are giving up Columbus Day and replacing the designation with ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” The state of Illinois has tried to find a middle ground.

More than 200 people rallied outside the state capitol building in Springfield over the weekend to show support for immigrants.

Standing in the shadow of the statehouse dome - right near a Lincoln statue - residents shared stories and support for people who have been living in the U.S. under the "Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program, commonly referred to as DACA. The Trump administration has begun to phase it out.

CREDIT "COURTROOM ONE GAVEL" BY FLICKR USER BETH CORTEZ-NEAVEL / (CC BY 2.0)

Hate crimes will be more punishable under a new law the governor signed this week.

The measure was a result of suggestions from the state’s bi-partisan Holocaust and Genocide Commission. It was introduced to the legislature well before the events in Charlottesville. However, State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said it sends a strong message to those considering acting out their hatred.

Pages