When the executive producer and subjects of Deaf U, the new Netflix docuseries about students at Gallaudet University, attended a virtual tour to promote the series, the session was done almost completely in American Sign Language (ASL) but with the help of nimble interpreters, four of the show's subjects and EP Nyle DiMarco fielded questions and talked about telling their stories and showing a wide array of personalities in the Deaf community to prove that Deaf people come from all sorts of backgrounds and have a multitude of experiences, like anyone else in any other culture.
Set at DiMarco's alma mater, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the series follows a handful of deaf and hard-of-hearing college students as they navigate school, friendships, and romantic relationships. Gallaudet is the world's only deaf university and DiMarco stressed that he wanted Deaf U to showcase the many facets of the school's community, "As you'll see, this is a very tightknit group of cast that we have who all come to the table with different stories, different histories, very unexpected, and a lot of drama," he signed. "But the point of it all is that Deaf people are human, the same as hearing people. We go through the same things in life."
The four subjects participating in the panel — Cheyenna Clearbrook, Renate Rose, Rodney Burford and Daequan Taylor — were all happy to have the chance to share, and sometimes overshare, their personal stories. Renate Rose shared, "I wanted to take this opportunity to show what I had to offer to the world, to show...my own journey as to what I've experienced and the similarities that most of us have." Rose was also glad the university was so supportive of the project, saying, "Gallaudet was very cooperative. They were very supportive. And they wanted to show us in a certain way that it's very rare to see our lives in the mainstream."
The stories shared in the eight short episodes are often intensely personal, involving sexual identity, pregnancy, sexual abuse, and less than idyllic childhoods. All the students are frank and honest as they talk about their feelings and personal pain. Cheyenna praised her friends and the show's team for making her feel safe during filming, "There was so much team support and I felt comfortable to hear that because I knew that I also am not alone, that so many others are experiencing the same."
Born with the ability to hear, then losing hearing in his left ear after a childhood seizure, Daequan Taylor learned ASL over the course of two years. He feels like he's a new breed of Gallaudet student, saying, "I get to bring in a new Deaf culture and I entered Gallaudet in 2015. And I'm sticking up for, you know, a new generation and a different history and culture and a new generation, new ethnic group."
Deaf U premieres October 9 on Netflix.