Rachel Otwell

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces NPR Illinois' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Thursdays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

She's a graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS 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, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

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.

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.

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.

Since 2016, Marc Nelson has used his artwork to draw attention to the people, often children, affected by the Syrian civil war. He's connected his students with children there through artwork and messages sent via social media, namely Twitter.

A new panel will look at how to curb sexual harassment and abuse of campaign workers. It follows scrutiny of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

An Illinois man was found "not guilty” today for an arson case dating back to 1995. Bill Amor already spent 22 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

Rachel Otwell / WUIS / NPR Illinois

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."

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. 

In his State of the State Address Wednesday, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner talked about balancing the budget and weeding out career politicians. Some of the Democrats in attendance want to unseat him in the election this fall.

Daniel Schwen / Adapted by Peoria Public Radio / CC BY-SA 4.0 / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner presents his state of the state address in Springfield Wednesday. Those who watch it might notice one color in particular being worn by those in attendance. Illinois Public Radio's Rachel Otwell explains. 

President Donald Trump’s administration has been in power for a year now. “State of Trump” is our series discussing what’s changed in Illinois, and what might be ahead

Trump campaigned on building a wall between the border of Mexico and the U.S. While it appears he's willing to scale back that effort, targeting immigrants who do not have protected status remains near the top of his agenda. 

President Donald Trump’s administration has been in power for a year now. “State of Trump” is our series discussing what’s changed in the state, and what might be ahead.


Each day of session in the General Assembly starts off with a prayer from a minister or chaplain. For the first time, a Hindu will be sharing a recitation from his religion. Rajan Zed is the President of the Universal Society of Hinduism.

He's prayed before government councils and groups all over the country, including the United States Senate. He says Hinduism is misunderstood by many Americans, and seeing as it's the third largest world religion after Christianity and Islam, Zed wants to change that.


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

While across the country hate crime rates rose after the presidential election, Illinois has passed some laws addressing the issue. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center and FBI statistics - the last quarter of 2016 saw hate crimes go up more than 25% in the U.S.

80% of the families served through Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County consist of women and their children. Shayne Squires is the development manager for the organization. She says a new initiative wants to build a home funded entirely by women - and built by them as well.

From now until March 20th primary - the race for governor has candidates buying advertising slots and pounding the pavement to get their names in front of voters.

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein's downfall due to sexual assault and harassment claims from numerous women - it's glaringly apparent that the issue is not limited to a certain industry or segment of society. Statehouses across the nation have joined in the #MeToo movement. Some are saying state legislatures harbor environments where such activity is commonplace.

Nearly everyone will visit a cemetery at some point in their life - but most don't realize the rich diversity of history they have to offer. They contain insights about folklore, religion, art and society at large. So postulates Hal Hassen, who has been a cemetery enthusiast since his youth. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York where he would explore historic cemeteries. 

The Springfield City Council stalled on considering a resolution that would have declared it a "Welcome City" for immigrants. Seven members voted to table the issue - while only three supported a vote.

Since this past weekend, women and men have been sharing their accounts of sexual violence with the hashtag #MeToo. While many assumed the movement started with actor Alyssa Milano's tweet about Hollywood producer/mogul and alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein, some are pointing out that a black woman named Tarana Burke used the same terminology for a project also mean to address sexual assault.

A new effort to get kids more active and in touch with their thoughts has come to Springfield's public school district - in the form of yoga classes. It could also have implications for how students are disciplined in the future.

A measure has been introduced in Illinois as a response to the deadly summer rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville.

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.

A duo that's performed hundreds of times across the country sharing a unique blend of classical, hip hop and other contemporary music will be in Springfield on Saturday, Sept. 23rd. During performances Black Violin consists of a D.J. and backing band; at its center however are Wil B. who plays viola and Kev Marcus who plays violin. This tour in part is promoting their newest album, called Stereotypes

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

Illinois is getting tougher on those convicted of hate crimes. In the wake of Charlottesville, the legislature passed resolutions taking a stand against hate. But resolutions are not legally binding.

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.