We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Taylor Swift to receive honorary NYU doctorate
Taylor Swift will receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts from New York University as the school’s commencement speaker this spring.
This degree will be Swift’s first as she started producing music and touring by the time she graduated high school.
The commencement ceremony will take place on May 18 at Yankee Stadium. Since this is NYU’s first commencement since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Swift will be honoring the 2020, 2021, and 2022 graduating classes.
NYU’s Clive Davis Institute just completed its first-ever class on Swift, taught by Rolling Stone staff writer Brittany Spanos.
“I cannot overstate how thrilled I am to be coming together in person with graduates, parents, faculty, and honorees for NYU’s Commencement. Since 2019, we have been deprived of Commencement’s festive, communal joy, and its absence has been keenly felt,” NYU President Andrew Hamilton said. —Hannah Cote
New York to offer free doula services
New York City plans to offer free access to doulas for families in the city’s “most vulnerable neighborhoods.”
A doula is a “professional labor assistant who provides physical and emotional support” during pregnancy and childbirth. Doulas don’t need professional health care experience, while nurse midwives can provide medical care, such as prescribed medications.
Citywide Doula Initiative, the program installing the act, will provide access to doulas for 500 families by the end of June, according to New York Mayor Eric Adams.
Families involved in the program can receive three prenatal home visits from a trained doula, support during labor and delivery, and four postpartum visits. New York is also expanding the number of doulas in the city and plans to train 50 doulas by the end of June and certify 70 more.
The doula initiative is part of a “larger project to reduce racial inequities in maternal health,” Adams said.
“The root causes of racial disparities in maternal health are real, so it’s time we do right by every mother and every baby, no matter the color of their skin or the language they speak,” Adams said. “By expanding and investing in both doulas and midwives, we are taking the steps necessary to begin to address the disparities in maternal deaths, life-threatening complications from childbirth, and infant mortality.” —HC
Glimmers of hope emerge in Ukraine
While Russia’s inexplicable invasion of Ukraine that began five weeks ago has not ceased to devastate the Ukrainians, this past week, there were finally apparent signs that Ukraine could be victorious.
Peace talks continue between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, with an in-person meeting occurring this week in Istanbul and video talks set to resume on Friday. Ukraine has put forth a proposal of neutrality, making them unable to join NATO or any other military alliances.
Russian troops have withdrawn from the Chernobyl power plant, one of their earliest acquisitions in this war, and around 20 percent of Russian forces in the areas surrounding Kyiv have pulled back. However, the remaining troops continue to shell the capital city. Ukrainian troops have successfully regained ground and checked Russian advances.
Some Russian forces have crossed the northern border into Belarus to resupply and regroup. Last Friday, Russia claimed that the first phase of their military operations in Ukraine was almost complete, and they would be turning their focus to liberating the eastern Donbas region, controlled by Russian-backed separatists. This move appears to be a sign that Russia is re-evaluating its objectives and possibly giving up its hopes of a regime change in Ukraine. The move has been described as “face-saving” by a senior diplomatic source in Moscow.
The head of the UK’s intelligence and security agency said that Putin has “massively misjudged” the situation in Ukraine.
Reports have emerged of Russian soldiers willingly accepting defeat and laying down arms rather than dying for the cause. In one instance, a Russian officer was run over by a tank by his troops after they suffered heavy losses. The loss of morale among Russian troops is less surprising when remembering that, early in the invasion, Russian soldiers reportedly told Ukrainian captors that they had no clue why they were there and believed they were deployed for routine military exercises.
Despite the Ukrainian resilience that has taken Russia by surprise, this remains the largest humanitarian crisis Europe has seen in decades. More than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled to surrounding countries, the sixth-largest refugee outflow over the past 60 years. —Gabriella Patti
Ukraine’s refugees are being preyed on by the sex industry
Besides dodging shells launched by Russia’s artillery, Ukrainians face yet another threat: increased sex trafficking at the borders.
The BBC reports, that at the beginning of the crisis, Polish train stations receiving desperate refugees were infiltrated by criminals. At each station, men holding cardboard signs waited to convince women and children to come with them to supposed safe havens. Police now patrol the platforms, reducing the risk, but there are still phony “volunteers” posing in high-visibility vests lurking.
“For predators and human traffickers, the war in Ukraine is not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity—and women and children are the targets,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said.
The BBC spoke with one refugee mother, Elena Moskvitina, who encountered fake volunteers after crossing the Ukraine-Romania border. She said the men were aggressive, telling her their van, filled with other women, was her best shot at getting away from the border. They stared at her children sleazily and became irate when she asked to see their ID cards. Elena promised to meet up with them later, but as soon as the men left, she gathered up her children and ran. She is now safe in Denmark.
Receiving countries are struggling to stay organized amid the flood of traumatized, desperate families, and many children are arriving unaccompanied, making them an even easier target.
Organized crime isn’t the only problem; creepy individuals, too, have opened their homes to the refugees, only to begin abusing them. The BBC also met private individuals working at the border to block sex traffickers from potential victims, including at least one woman who had been manipulated into prostitution in the past.
Reportedly, Ukrainian radio stations have been broadcasting warnings about sexual exploitation and trafficking rings. But at least three million women and children have made the journey regardless, wagering they are less vulnerable living as refugees than under Vladimir Putin’s merciless shelling. —Margaret Brady
'CODA' wins best picture during Oscars 2022
During the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, March 27, the Apple TV+ movie CODA won Best Picture, making it the first Best Picture win for a streaming service and the first film with a predominately all deaf cast to win the award.
CODA actor Troy Kotsur became the first deaf male actor to win Best Supporting Actor. Other notable wins included Ariana DeBose, who won the Oscar for Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story, and Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for her portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker in the biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Dune won six awards, making it the most highly-rewarded film of the evening.
Unfortunately, much of the celebration and grandeur of the evening was overshadowed when Oscar nominee, actor Will Smith, walked on stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock for making a joke that his wife Jada Pinkett Smith could be in G.I. Jane 2 due to her shaved head. Pinkett Smith has the hair loss condition alopecia and has been open about her struggles and insecurities. After exiting the stage, Smith yelled expletives at Rock, who, although visibly shaken, continued with presenting. Smith went on to win Best Actor for the movie King Richard, after which he appeared to defend his actions out of love for his family, while apologizing to the Academy and fellow nominees, but not Rock. (He apologized to Rock the next day on social media).
This unfortunate moment has kept people from highlighting Oscar moments of genuine levity and heartwarming exchanges. In arguably the most positive and touching moment of the evening, Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli appeared together on stage to present the award for Best Picture. Minnelli has dementia and presented from a wheelchair. She visibly struggled with the piece of paper she was holding and said, “I don’t understand.” The microphones picked up Lady Gaga reassuring Minnelli, saying, “I got you,” taking her by the hand.
Like every Oscar ceremony, it was a mixed bag. Here’s hoping that next year’s Academy Awards are exciting for less negative reasons. —GP
Kim Kardashian apologizes for comments about women in business
Earlier this month, in an interview with Variety, Kim Kardashian said, “I have the best advice for women in business: Get your f—ing ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”
Kardashian has since apologized after receiving criticism being out of touch and offensive. As I put it at Verily, “Kim's comment is particularly insulting because it fails to address that women in business have been working harder than ever to keep up with men in a gendered work environment before the added pressure of toxic girlboss culture and the expectation that they should be able to juggle motherhood, childcare, the cultural implications of their femininity, as well as the stress of world events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Kardashian addressed the backlash during an appearance on Good Morning America on Monday. Kardashian claims that Variety took the quote out of context. She said that her negative tone was due to being riled up by a question asked right before about accusations that her family is “famous for being famous.”
“That statement that I said was without questions and conversation around it, and it became a soundbite really with no context,” Kardashian told GMA host Robin Roberts. “In that soundbite, I came off of the notion in the question right before, which was, ‘After 20 years of being in the business, you’re famous for being famous.’”
“It wasn’t a blanket statement toward women or to feel like I don’t respect their work or think that they don’t work hard. I know that they do,” she continued. “But I’m really sorry if it was received that way.”
Variety chief correspondent Elizabeth Wagmeister, who conducted the interview, tweeted that Kardashian’s claims about being taken out of context are untrue, and the question about being “famous for being famous” actually followed the “women in business” comment.
“It’s not what she claims. I just reviewed the raw footage. The question was very direct: ‘What would be your advice for women in business?’” —GP
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs gender education bill
On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new bill with restrictions on discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools. Many opponents call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, though its formal title is Parental Rights in Education.
The bill bans teachers or third parties in the classroom from teaching on the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. It also prohibits teachings that are not considered developmentally or age-appropriate for students, extending the ban to content in all grade levels.
Though many groups are in opposition of the bill—hosts Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall even commented on it during the 94th Academy Awards last Sunday—DeSantis continues to defend the legislation in an attempt to help parents have control over their children’s education.
DeSantis stated that schools are feeding students “sloganeering and fake narratives by leftist politicians, by activists and corporate media.”
Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has made a statement about challenging the bill. “At every turn, the Florida Legislature rejected reasonable amendments to this legislation and refused to mitigate its harm,” the organization said.
The new law will take effect on July 1 but will likely face legal challenges. “We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said. —HC
March Madness comes to a close, Final Four and championship
It’s been just over two weeks, and the NCAA’s Final Four tournament is around the corner.
On April 2, the Final Four will take place in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, LA. The championship will follow the next day.
While only one No. 1 seed will compete in New Orleans, the two semifinal games will feature some of the most “storied schools in the history of college basketball.”
No. 1 Kansas will play against No. 2 Villanova and No. 2 Duke against No. 8 North Carolina.
UNC will take on Duke for the first time in NCAA tournament history—and it could be the final game of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career.
Krzyzewski is making his thirteenth Final Four appearance. He made one every four years during his 42-year run with the Blue Devils, marking a new college basketball record for most Final Fours by a coach, breaking the previous record held by UCLA coach John Wooden.
Though many fans eagerly await the rest of the tournament, they’ve also suffered many upsets in the bracket—the most notable one awarded to No. 15 Saint Peter’s.
The Saint Peter’s Peacocks made history last Friday night when they upset No. 3 seed Purdue in a 67-64 win as a 12.5-point underdog.
But their winning streak was cut short in a 69-49 loss against UNC during the following game. Still, Saint Peter’s run now holds a record. Only 10 No. 15 seeds had ever won a March Madness game in 37 years, and eight of those were in the second round. No one had won in the third round until Saint Peter’s. —HC
Good News of the Week
Elementary students at Oak Hill Elementary School in Covington, Georgia, showed love for their head custodian, Ukrainian native Lana Gazhenko, by decorating the school hallways with artwork in honor of Ukraine amidst Russia’s month-long attack on the sovereign country.
Gazhenko, known affectionately at the school as "Miss Lana,” has been working there for 21 years, and sees it as a second home. Out of love for Miss Lana and her family, the students decorated the school with artwork depicting sunflowers. Miss Lana discovered the surprise when she walked into the school building for work and was immediately overwhelmed.
"My school, kids, teachers made me a really big surprise," Miss Lana told Fox News Digital. "I was first speechless and just started crying. Oak Hill family is family, you know — not just school, not just work. This is family." —GP
Watch of the Week
Watch Beyonce’s live performance during the Academy Award ceremony of the original song “Be Alive” from the movie King Richard. Keep an eye out for a surprise dance performance from her daughter Blue Ivy.