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 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.

Flickr User Benson Kua

LGBTQ rights activists say two pieces of legislation should be signed by the governor. Both passed the General Assembly unanimously.

Even though a state budget was finally passed earlier this summer, the process for paying allocated funds is not automatic. Social service agencies are waiting for money owed to them by the state.

C/O EAGLE FORUM & JENNIFER LEE

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of  sex. 
—   The proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

This story will begin with an ending. In an Illinois Issues edition that came out in 1982, author Diane Ross wrote something about the last day of the Illinois General Assembly spring session that sounds eerily relatable to the present:

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

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