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Gallaudet is the only university in the world where students live and learn in American Sign Language (ASL) and English.

Deaf U | A Netflix Original Reality Series

Deaf U is a reality show that will follow seven Gallaudet students. As with other reality shows, these seven students will give you a close-up view and often deeply personal look at their college journey; including our rich culture, our vast diversity, our ASL vibrancy,  and, yes, real deaf college experiences.

Like many reality shows, Deaf U will spark conversation both inside and outside of our community, but Gallaudet University hopes that it will also help redefine society’s perceptions about deaf people and serve as a spark for healthy conversations and new opportunities.

Deaf U was filmed by New York-based Hot Snakes Media, Netflix purchased the distribution rights and will stream Deaf U worldwide in 190 countries in 20 different languages. 

Hot Snakes Media, founded in 2011 by Shannon and Eric Evangelista, is well known for its innovative content on The Discovery Channel and TLC, including Breaking Amish and several follow-up shows, The Sisterhood, and Operation Osmin. Their programming is available on cable and online.

DEAF U | A NETFLIX ORIGINAL REALITY SERIES

Deaf U is a reality show that follows seven Gallaudet students. These seven students provide an up close and often deeply personal look at their college journey. As they show us their deaf college experience, they show the world our culture, diversity, and ASL vibrancy.

Like many reality shows, Deaf U will spark conversation both inside and outside of our community, but Gallaudet University hopes that it will also help redefine society’s perceptions about deaf people and serve as a spark for healthy conversations and new opportunities.

Deaf U was filmed by New York-based Hot Snakes Media, Netflix purchased the distribution rights and will stream Deaf U worldwide in 190 countries in 20 different languages. 

Hot Snakes Media, founded in 2011 by Shannon and Eric Evangelista, is well known for its innovative content on The Discovery Channel and TLC, including Breaking Amish and several follow-up shows, The Sisterhood, and Operation Osmin. Their programming is available on cable and online.

0 %
New students at Gallaudet are new signers.
0 %
Recent Gallaudet graduates are employed or in graduate school

Tuition and Fees are 38% lower than the U.S. National Average for public out-of-state tuition

What type of students comes to Gallaudet?

  • are from mainstream programs.
  • are from deaf schools.
  • are transfers from other colleges.

The Production

Gallaudet welcomed Hot Snakes Media to campus in the fall of 2019. Nyle DiMarco, ’13, served as executive producer. Several other deaf individuals, including a number of Gallaudet alumni, were involved with the production in various roles, including the casting which was supported by Peggy Ann St. John Wenger, ’94, consultation and videography.

We appreciate that both Hot Snakes Media and Netflix saw the importance and the value of involving deaf people both in front of and behind the camera. A list of these individuals appears right or below; we thank them for their involvement in ensuring that the show is authentic. 

Gallaudet’s Involvement
Other than allowing filming on campus, Gallaudet had no official role with Deaf U, the casting of the students, or any review or approval rights to the content.The students were selected independently by the series producers and they each worked directly with the filmmakers to tell their stories.

We look forward to seeing the series when it premieres; however, we are mindful of the adage “reality television is reality television.”

Deaf Talent Involved

  • Derrick Behm-Josa, ’13
  • Ruan du Plessis
  • Bradley Gantt, E-’10
  • Tyrone Giordano, ’99
  • MJ Kielbus
  • Toj Mora
  • Nikolya Sereda, ’19
  • Javier Tabares, ’16

There truly is no right way to be deaf.

Nyle DiMarco, ’13

This is exactly how it should be. At Gallaudet there is no one way, or one “right” way, to be Deaf.

Our students do not come here because being Deaf needs to be “overcome.”
Rather, they come because Gallaudet is a place that strives to provide a welcoming home where students can validate their worth, live their own truths and discover their best selves.

Deaf U Cast

Cheyenna Clearbrook; Daequan Taylor, ’19; Tessa Lewis, ’20; Alexa Paulay-Simmons, ’20; Renate Rose, ’20; Rodney Burford; and Dalton Taylor.

A common thread was the desire to showcase their experience, their journey at Gallaudet, the only school in the world to provide a visually accessible bilingual education in American Sign Language and English. 

This was a diverse group of students, with differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, education, language and upbringing. One student was a new signer; some came from hearing families and others from deaf families.

Recurring roles: Zane Pedersen and Cameron Symansky

Gallaudet Your Way

Contact an admissions counselor to get started on college planning. Connect with us today.

“The show promises to offer “an unprecedented, unfiltered, and often unexpected look inside the deaf community.”

– wusa9

★★★★★

“Get ready for a college experience like you’ve never seen before.”

– decider.com

Press and Events

We will be organizing a number of interpretive events in early October. Watch this space for further details.

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Frequently ASKED Questions

Deaf elitism is one of several recurring themes throughout Deaf U. There is no one definition of what “Deaf elite” means, but more often than not it refers to privileges that certain deaf people have by virtue of being born to deaf parents who are known in the community, having language access from birth with native ASL skills or fluency in English, being able to go to a deaf school before going to college, and seeming to enjoy “favored status” within their communities. 

The term “Deaf elite” has been used in our community conversations for some time now. When Deaf U was in production, various cast members confronted this term and presented various perspectives and definitions of what the term means to them. While there is no real consensus on the definition of this term, “Deaf elite” generally implies a group of Deaf individuals with higher privileges within the Deaf community. 

At Gallaudet, and elsewhere in the deaf community, there are many different ways to be deaf, and there is no one right way to be deaf. Gallaudet University encourages more healthy conversations and critical examination of Deaf U’s presentation of “Deaf elite.” Understanding power, privilege, and oppression is important in these conversations. Different Deaf community members are already sharing their perspectives online via social media and blogs, and we expect that the discussions around this term will evolve over time.

Deaf U is a reality television series that will be streamed on Netflix. Its eight episodes follow several deaf and hard of hearing students who attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and how they navigate personal relationships and other coming-of-age experiences typically faced by college students.

Deaf U premieres on October 9 at midnight local time on Netflix. All eight episodes will be available at once.

Here’s what Deaf U’s producers have to say about the show’s origins:

ERIC EVANGELISTA:​ I first came up with the idea for this show about three years ago. I’m a big fan of the Freeform show S​witched at Birth.​ I love coming-of-age stories, and I also loved that the show featured Deaf actors who were blended in with the rest of the teenage characters. I found the sign language included in the show so interesting — it introduced me to a world I knew very little about, and I began thinking about a reality show centered on the Deaf community. I’ve developed shows with Naimah [Holmes] before, so I called her and was like, “What do you think of this?” And she thought it was great. Then the stars just aligned and we got Nyle on board as well. 

NAIMAH HOLMES:​ We worked closely with a woman we met through Eric’s production lawyer named Peggy Ann St. John Wenger who’s also an Associate Producer on the series. Peggy, who is deaf, is a Gallaudet graduate and she really helped me dive into the project and immerse myself in the Deaf community. I got to explore the community before we began casting and filming, and I met all our cast members’ families. We went on a scouting trip and I saw all the dorms, got to go to some parties — it was a real cultural deep dive. It was really about them pulling me in and accepting me in order for me to then say, “Okay, let’s make a show together.” Peggy helped really round up and galvanize the students and the parents. 

NYLE DiMARCO:​ I’m a Gallaudet alum, and back in my college days, my friends and I always used to say that we needed a reality TV show about Gallaudet because we knew it would just kill. Every time we would go on spring break, hearing people were so fascinated with us. They would always want to party with us, and they were obsessed with our language and how we communicated. So it was clear that there was real interest in our culture. People outside of our community really don’t understand the Deaf world, and don’t recognize that Deaf students possess complicated layers. We have so much diversity and so much beauty within our community. We’re not a monolith. Gallaudet is the perfect entry point for people to see the variety and depth and breadth of who we are. 

Deaf U was produced by Hot Snakes Media.

No. This show was produced by Hot Snakes Media and is being distributed by Netflix. Gallaudet had no creative or approval rights to the content, nor any involvement in the design and editing of the show. Each of the students in the cast participated in the show on their own. Most of the filming took place during Fall 2019 on the Gallaudet University campus and nearby off-campus venues.

Yes at nearly every turn both in front of and behind the camera. Nyle DiMarco, ’13, was executive producer of the series. Gallaudet alumna Peggy Ann St. John Wenger, ’94, was an associate producer, and several additional Gallaudet alumni were part of the crew. Specifically, the deaf community comprised 60% of the story department producers, 30% of the crew and 30% of the edit team.

This is not a Gallaudet decision and our understanding is this has not yet been decided.

To date, most of the reviews have been very positive and Deaf U has made it onto many “top shows to watch” lists.

Here are a couple of review examples:

Veteran Washington Post TV reviewer Hank Stuever, in previewing 25 fall shows, wrote, “Even if you live in Washington, the goings-on at Gallaudet University, the nation’s top college for the deaf and hard of hearing, can still seem to be taking place in a different world. Not anymore, as this fast-moving, all-access, Cheer-like docuseries bursts forth with an intimate look at the lives of a group of students among the school’s 1,100 undergrads who are busy with academics and a tangle of personal relationships, parties and some social customs that are unique to the deaf experience.”

USA Today’s Kelly Lawler wrote, “This new docuseries, set at Gallaudet University, the prestigious deaf and hard of hearing school in Washington, D.C., has the same kind of magic that Netflix’s college-set series Cheer did back in January. It follows a diverse, magnetic group of students, part of a community that’s small enough for gossip and relationship drama to run rampant. Produced by actor and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco (Dancing with the Stars) the series isn’t a fluffy after-school special, nor is it exploitative of its subjects. It simply shows the very human triumphs and foibles of young people making their way in the world.” 

The students in the cast are (listed alphabetically):

Rodney Burford: UG active student.  Major: Psychology.

Cheyenna Clearbrook: UG inactive student.  Major: International Studies.

Tessa Lewis: Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work & Minor in Communication Studies. Tessa graduated May 2019 with Magna Cum Laude.  Master of Social Work degree – Tessa graduated in May 2020.

Renate Rose: Bachelor of Arts degree in Government with specialization in Law.  Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies.  Minor in Communication Studies   Renate graduated in May 2020.

Alexa Paulay-Simmons: Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies & Minor in Psychology.  Alexa graduated in May 2020 with Cum Laude.

Daequan Taylor: Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education & Recreation.  Daequan graduated in December 2019

Dalton Taylor (no relation to Daequan): UG active student.  Major: Physical Education & Recreation.  Minor: Public Health.

Zane Pedersen (recurring characters): Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with concentrations in Entrepreneurship & Marketing.  Zane graduated in May 2020.

Cameron Symansky (recurring characters): UG inactive student.  Undeclared Major.

Students at four postsecondary programs for deaf and hard of hearing students applied to be considered for roles on this show. Gallaudet University and its students were selected based on their life stories, their personalities, their connections with each other, and their ability to translate well on-screen.

Yes. However, filming took place over the course of months with hundreds of hours of recorded footage, which was distilled down to the episodes you see. So, while everything you see in the series happened, there is more to the experience that could not fit into the series.

In this series, one group of seven Gallaudet students share their journey as young adults. While some students at Gallaudet and elsewhere may have similar experiences, Deaf U in no way represents every Gallaudet student’s experience.

This is not accurate. During Fall 2019, when filming took place, Gallaudet enrolled 54.23% female undergraduate students and 45.77% male undergraduate students.

While there are always different perceptions of reality television, Deaf U has a reach of 182 million Netflix subscribers in 190 countries. This show provides an opportunity to raise awareness of deaf and hard of hearing people, their lives, their language, and their culture, especially at Gallaudet University.

Deaf U provides younger deaf generations with another great example of career possibilities in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera.

Deaf U also provides an opportunity to reinforce Gallaudet’s bilingual mission and academic offerings, and to showcase Gallaudet as a great educational option for deaf and hard of hearing students from all over the world. 

Finally, Deaf U presents an opportunity for learning. It provides a lens for open discussion of important issues, including “deaf elitism,” white privilege, race relations, interpersonal relationships, mental health and language and culture. 

Ultimately, we need more narratives like Deaf U that elevate the complex stories of our deaf individuals and communities.

Absolutely! We are now accepting applications for Spring 2021 and Fall 2021.

Please visit our Undergraduate Admissions website for information on how to apply and how to arrange a virtual tour, or to ask questions. You can also email admissions@gallaudet.edu. If you are interested in graduate studies, visit our Graduate Admissions website, or email graduate.admissions@gallaudet.edu.

Visit our website. There is something for everyone there!

One of the best resources is ASL Connect. You can learn basic ASL for free, and augment your learning with ASL and Deaf Studies courses, all delivered online.

Following Deaf U’s premiere on October 9, Gallaudet plans to host a series of panel discussions about the Netflix series. Please visit here for updates on these panels and other possible Deaf U events.

It is the first time that an entire series was filmed at Gallaudet, but the campus has hosted film crews for television and film in the past.

 

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