Rachel Otwell

Reporter

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, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

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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?

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The Equal Rights Amendment is back in the news and back in the Statehouse, as supporters make another push for ratification in Illinois.

Meanwhile, the fiscal watchdog group The Civic Federation is out with a critique of Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget proposal and its own plan for the state, and a southern Illinois county declares itself a sanctuary for gun owners.

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And now to Southern Illinois and a story about counties that are declaring themselves sanctuaries for firearms. From member station WUIS in Springfield, Rachel Otwell reports.

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Chris Quintana covers the "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. Quintana visited the school and surrounding area for a story released earlier this year.

Rachel Otwell

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

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Now retired, Lea Joy became part of the Springfield Police Department in 1983. She had three children and had been a social worker, but she felt too powerless in that role. She wanted to make things better.

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Last week, Springfield's Iles Elementary School got a surprise when a musician and speaker who travels the world made a stop in town for the day. His message helped inspire acts of kindness and compassion.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Record Store Day is an international event that promotes artists and independent record stores. Each year, special releases come out featuring old and new music. 

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When Making A Murderer was released by Netflix in late 2015, it made a ripple among the public at large. Many were swept up in the debate as to whether or not the film's subject, Wisconsin man Steven Avery, was guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach.

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Over the weekend, members of the Hindu Temple of Greater Springfield prepared for their new temple with "Bhoomi Puja" ceremonies - meant to help break new ground and appease positive energies while honoring the earth.

Rachel Otwell

A national meeting for NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, was held in Springfield over the weekend. 

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The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project announced on Thursday a revamped website with about 5,000 legal, personal and political writings and documents associated with the nation's 16th president.

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

Those in favor of a measure they say would help get an amendment closer to being added to the U.S. Constitution will head to the Statehouse to lobby for it on Tuesday.

Rachel Otwell

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.

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In a world where "fake news" is a term known by just about anyone paying attention to current events, journalism's importance and history is increasingly being questioned. For his book released this year by the University of Illinois Press, Fred Carroll takes a look at the history of the commercial black press and how it intersected with alternative ideologies.

Rachel Otwell

Right outside Oak Ridge Cemetery, the resting place of President Abraham Lincoln, is the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum

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One of the capital city's oldest businesses is for sale. Recycled Records in downtown Springfield has a lot more going on than just what’s in the name. Old beer signs line the walls. There’s stereo equipment, collectible toys, historical books, vintage knick-knacks and more. It’s the kind of place you could get lost in for a day.

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It's well known that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign once used the depiction of a Native American chief as a symbol for its sports teams. The school retired Chief Illiniwek about a decade ago. But that hasn’t stopped some fans from using the likeness or even portraying the Chief. A new court filing alleges copyright infringement.

Rachel Otwell

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.

Rachel Otwell

Led by students, the "March for our Lives" effort made its way across the nation and here in Illinois over the weekend. Hundreds of people gathered outside the state capitol building in Springfield on Saturday before marching downtown.

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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, Missouri in 2014.

Rachel Otwell

Springfield’s oldest arts organization continues to grow. A recent visit to the Enos Park neighborhood was indicative of new efforts and collaborations.

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this year's theme is "Embrace Your Voice." Many survivors of sexual assault have done just that over the past several months, due in part to the #MeToo movement. 

Wednesday, some students from Springfield-area schools will leave class and stand in a common area on school grounds for 17 minutes - one minute to honor each of the lives lost in the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school. It's part of a national push led by young people for stricter gun laws.

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Each year florists from across the region apply to be part of Art In Bloom, an event at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Winners are chosen and given artworks at random, which they are then charged with interpreting through floral arrangements.

Rachel Otwell

Student activists from Parkland, Florida, have toured the country speaking out about gun violence after a gunman killed 17 people at their school in February. They recently made a stop in Chicago and their cause has inspired students all over the country, including in the Springfield area.

Rachel Otwell, Daisy Contreras, Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

 

Big changes to Illinois' gun laws don't happen often. But a growing movement across the country appears to be resonating in the state's General Assembly.

Rachel Otwell

Hundreds of people descended on the statehouse Wednesday to urge legislators 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.

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Google searches for the term "toxic masculinity" reached their peak following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida earlier in February, according to the search engine's analytics.

Social scientists and psychologists use the concept to explain why men are more prone to violence, for instance. But there are also real-world, negative consequences for men who might feel pressured to maintain the social status quo when it comes to presenting their gender identity.

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