From: Silver Screen

‘Deaf U’ star talks about the show’s impact and stories focused on D.C. college students

‘Deaf U’ star talks about the show’s impact and stories focused on D.C. college students
Graphic for Deaf U review

If you are in need of a new reality show to sip your tea to, go binge all eight episodes of “Deaf U,” the Netflix documentary about D.C.’s Gallaudet University. This series has the drama of your typical reality show with jocks, activists, “elites” and social media influencers packed into each 20-minute episode. “Deaf U” is an insightful reality show with a sense of humor that dives into the lives of eight deaf or hearing-impaired students navigating hardships and the struggles of being a college student in 2020.

Throughout the show, viewers are taken through a school catered to deaf students with dorms that have light switch doorbells and “U” shaped common area furniture to facilitate visual communication. This look into the university is interesting to those without any knowledge of the Deaf and hard of hearing community and important for those who can live comfortably in a hearing world. 

The show normalizes the Deaf and hearing-impaired college experience in a way that is missing in mainstream media. But this series is not limited to the experiences of the students it features. It is about how all college students navigate relationships, elitism, loneliness and their impending future.

These students invite the viewer to see what life is like in D.C.: going to clubs and protests and hanging out in places like the Wharf or the Lincoln Memorial. For American University students away from their city this semester, this show is also a welcome reminder of happy memories they have around the District. These students show how public spaces are not always “deaf-friendly” by moving table centerpieces or furniture around to make it so they can communicate. 

The Eagle interviewed cast member Rodney Burford to discuss his experience participating in the show and to learn more about the show’s impact. Burford said that he wants people watching the show to become more aware of inaccessibility the Deaf community faces. 

“People think this show is supposed to represent Gallaudet, but no, it’s not,” Burford said. “It’s about the people on the show and their stories. Why is it that eight people have to represent a whole community?”

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Burford’s place as one of the main cast members on “Deaf U” was an accident, he said. His friend was asked to audition and that friend brought Burford to the audition with him. Burford said that he was surprised to get a call back.

The series highlights many relevant and common issues like activism, mental health and status. It is refreshing to see these issues being addressed in such a real way, and it normalizes healthy ways to confront conflict like therapy and protesting. Unlike many reality shows, “Deaf U” follows the unfabricated lives of these students. 

“All of the stories on the show were real,” Burford said. 

To have a good reality show, there must be many storylines to follow filled with resolvable drama. Each of the cast members have entangled drama that they eventually resolve but are able to satisfy the need for gossip. 

The concept of elitism came up frequently throughout the series.

“People have different definitions of ‘elite.’ The criteria would be accessibility to things,” Burford said. “I am an elite – it would be disrespectful to say I am not an elite. I have access to a lot more things that other deaf people don’t. I can speak very well, even if there was no Gallaudet, I could function in the hearing world just fine.”

In the series, they showcase “the Elites” as mean girls. No one loves mean girls, but in “Deaf U,” one crossover “elite” allows for bridges to be built between the groups.

Each episode leaves you in the middle of conflict, wanting to watch the next episode to see what plays out next. While the last episode wraps up some of the conflicts in the cast’s lives, the viewer is left wondering whether or not these students have landed on their feet. 

amelsheimer@theeagleonline.com


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