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%.

A website that popped up this month asks a question as its URL: arethereanywomenrunningforilgovernor.com.

It then very simply answers it with a bright red "NO." A group of professional women in the state are behind the effort to draw attention to the issue.

Among them is Kady McFadden. She helped create a new website to highlight the lack of women candidates for governor. 

Across Illinois - social service providers are having to make cuts. The head of one shelter says without a state budget, its future is bleak.

This year at the Grammys - Chicago native Chance The Rapper took home multiple awards, including one for Best New Artist. But another Chicago based group took home its first win, though the category it took the Grammy for goes a little more under the radar.

A group of nuns in Springfield is participating in a long-term medical study. For those involved, it’s another way to serve others.

Rachel Otwell/Illinois Public Radio

Late last month, a bus carrying about 25 Texan students -- mostly Latino -- rolled into Springfield. The group was on a mission concerning the legacy of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who led many battles during the Mexican American War. Springfield is home to something that was once very close to the Mexican general, and the students say it belongs back in his home country all these decades later.

Late last month a bus carrying about 25 Texan students, mostly Latino, rolled into Springfield. The group was on a mission concerning the legacy of Santa Anna, who led many battles during the Mexican American War. Springfield is home to something that was once very close to the Mexican General, and the students say it belongs back in his home country, all these decades later.

 

Rachel Otwell

"I was shot, my car was stolen, it was not a good night." So says Kathryn Harris while explaining her attempt at being a police officer. She got in a patrol car and pulled over an officer/instructor who went through a couple of challenging scenarios, like the ones police face regularly.

"cutest baby foot" by Flickr User Lisa Borbely / (CC BY 2.0)

 Illinois is doing better than many other states when it comes to implementing protections for working families.

That's according to a study by the National Partnership for Women & Families. The group's Vicki Shabo says in 2014, Illinois passed a law requiring accommodations for nursing mothers in the workforce. But she wants to see the state expand other rules.  These include giving more than 3 months of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or seriously ill family member.

Steve Moses/Flickr

A new study was completed on one of the mounds at Cahokia State Historic Site.  It shows human remains dated at 900 years old belonged to both men and women.

This contradicts earlier theories that the mound was for elite warrior men, and, according to one professor, shifts the narrative more toward fertility symbolism.  

About 300 people stood on Lawrence Avenue outside of Springfield's LGBTQ community resource facility, The Phoenix Center

Across the nation those in and who are allies of the LGBTQ community are mourning the loss of life in Orlando over the weekend. 

Rachel Otwell

  A student at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana was charged with murder this week, after she turned herself in and showed authorities the body of a newborn in her back-pack. Authorities say Lindsay Johnson - 20 years old from Monee - suffocated her son last month after giving birth to him in a dorm bathroom.

State of Illinois

R​ape crisis centers have had to scale back services because of the budget stalemate - which is headed toward its tenth month.

There are about thirty in the state - all part of the same coalition.

The Prairie Center Against Sexual Assault is one ... it serves 11 counties in central Illinois ... and helps over 500 people annually.

It provides counseling, and medical and legal advice for victims.

Shelley Vaughan heads it ... she says she's had to lay-off employees and stop doing rural outreach.

Lisa Ryan / Illinois Public Radio

Money is still being raised to help run the Illinois State Museum in Springfield -- even though its doors have been closed to the public for three months. A not-for-profit that deals with grants and private donations continues to solicit, sending out pleas for donations in the mail.

The chair of the board, Guerry Suggs, says it’s mostly union employees still on the job. 

“We have now obviously more time to do curation work because we don’t have to deal with the public,” Suggs said. “So the museum’s collections are in fact being maintained.”

RACHEL OTWELL / Illinois Public Radio

Muslims in Illinois are coping with increased scrutiny and incendiary rhetoric. In this second part of a two-part report, we Illinois Public Radio's Rachel Otwell introduces you to a business owner in Champaign-Urbana.

Last weekend, more than 200 people of various religions and ethnicities attended a Springfield prayer vigil. It honored the lives lost in Paris and San Bernardino.

Muslim youth opened by singing the U.S National Anthem. Speakers included a rabbi, a Christian minister, and members of the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield.

Rachel Otwell / WUIS

Muslims in Illinois are coping with increased scrutiny and incendiary rhetoric. This first segment of a two-part Illinois Public Radio report visits a Springfield mosque.

The mosque of the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield is in a fairly nondescript building, save for its copper-colored dome. It's tucked away from a main road, nestled in a cluster of small businesses. The local Imam leads a Friday afternoon call to prayer.

EDWARDSPLACE.ORG

One of the nation's most historical instruments -- a piano that was played for the wedding of the 16th President of the United States -- will be restored to working order.

Edwards Place is the oldest surviving home in Springfield. Family members of Mary Todd Lincoln owned the home, and Abraham Lincoln himself spent time there courting Mary and socializing.

Now, Edwards Place wants to restore its piano -- one of only two surviving instruments that Lincoln is known to have listened to.

Human rights groups in Illinois say they'll continue programs for Syrian refugees. That’s despite the governor's calls to suspend accepting them.

As of 2010, Illinois has welcomed about 170 Syrian refugees. That's according to Sam Tuttle, policy director for Heartland Alliance.

"We hope that the governor and his staff and the people of Illinois will learn more about the resettlement program and that we can all be welcoming refugees who have oftentimes witnessed some great horrors, so that they can start their lives again," Tuttle said.

Flickr user Celeste Lindell / "Art supplies" (CC BY 2.0)

Teachers and administrators are working on new guidelines for art education in Illinois. Some schools have no art programs, while others have limited time to teach it.

New federal standards were released last year, though they came with no mandate. The State Board of Education has been organizing meetings for teachers to make the guidelines fit for them.

Jonathan VanderBrug is with Arts Alliance Illinois, an advocacy group that is also helping plan meetings. He says the process is meant to show schools why education in the arts is important.

WUIS

A civil rights icon made a stop in Springfield this week to talk about activism and his new books. 

John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, is the last living member of a group of civil rights leaders known as the "Big Six." Martin Luther King Jr. was also in that group, and mentored Lewis.

ARTSALLIANCE.ORG

Hundreds of artists and administrators met last week to discuss the state of the arts in Illinois.

Politics dominated the discussion, with a focus on ever-shrinking budgets for many arts groups. That includes the Illinois Arts Council Agency, which is the state department that oversees government spending on the arts.

Funding for the council has diminished from about $20 million dollars in 2007 to less than $9 million in 2012.

Ra Joy heads Arts Alliance Illinois, which is the state's largest such advocacy and membership group.

WUIS

A new law will require schools to install carbon monoxide detectors.

The law comes after an incident last year, where about 150 students and staff members became ill at the North Mac Intermediate School in Girard. The cause was a faulty exhaust pipe in the heating system.

A carbon monoxide detector would have alerted those in the building. While the detectors are required for many structures, schools were left out. 

ARTSALLIANCE.ORG

Illinois advocates for the arts say Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan for more budget cuts is bad policy. 

Since 2007, the budget for the Illinois Arts Council was already cut in half. Under Rauner, it would drop to $8 million.

Ra Joy heads an organization that represents hundreds of artists and cultural groups in the state. He says another cut would hurt education and tourism:

"If we're really going to be serious about making Illinois more competitive and more compassionate, we need to be serious about investment in the arts and our broader creative sector," Joy said.

COURTESY OF EMMA TODD

Emma Todd, then a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Tulsa, found herself seriously contemplating suicide, again. This time, the Springfield native had made her way to the top of a building.

She wanted to jump, but someone stopped her.

“I have been extremely lucky,” Todd said. “A lot of people aren’t; a lot of people kill themselves.” 

A committee of state lawmakers will meet in Chicago today to discuss problems, such as prostitution, happening at state-run residential facilities for teens.

The hearing is in response to an ongoing investigative series by The Chicago Tribune.

At least 14 teenagers who lived at the centers were found to have engaged in prostitution since 2011. Other problems include extreme discipline, lack of staff, and abuse.

Flickr user Todd / "You buys your ticket" (CC BY 2.0)

If you like to attend shows, chances are you've bought tickets online. Problem is, if you're doing a search and buying from the first site that pops up, there's a chance you're getting ripped off. 

These brokers have crafted legitimate looking websites, and often sell tickets at inflated prices, adding "service" fees. It's nothing new, but Carly Shank who works with Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield says 2014 has been the worst year for it yet:

"We've had a lot of high-profile events, and those are events that kind of help egg that problem along."

Charter schools have long been a divisive issue. Supporters say they allow schools to teach kids free of burdensome regulations.  Opponents say they take money away from traditional schools.  In Illinois this year, those views are colliding.  In the final installment of our series, we find out about the fight at the statehouse and what it might mean for charters:

Nearly two decades ago when the state legislature paved the way for charter schools, Republicans were in control and touted them as an innovative way to improve education by removing many rules and regulations. Now there are about 145 charter school campuses across the state, the vast majority in Chicago. Supporters say they are the change an ailing education system needs, but it's a contentious topic. In this report, the first of a two-part series, we visit a charter school and explore the differing opinions about them:

Many people are aware that the Illinois Lottery helps fund schools. But just how much do the proceeds actually help? Well, that's what we aimed to find out:

    

Newly approved tuition increases at the University of Illinois mean that four years of college on the flagship campus will top $100,000 for many students. Trustees voted Thursday to raise tuition by 1.7 %. They also increased fees and housing costs. Vice President for Academic Affairs Christopher Pierre says the increases sticks to a university plan to keep increases in line with inflation.

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