Deaf U

Deaf U | A Netflix Original Reality Series

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a student at the only university in the world where students live and learn in American Sign Language (ASL) and English?

Deaf U follows the lives of seven Gallaudet students as they navigate the ups and downs of relationships, college, and life in general–did we mention it all takes place at Gallaudet University?

By showing us their experience, these students have shown the world our culture, diversity, and ASL vibrancy. While there’s plenty of popcorn-worthy drama, we hope Deaf U sparks conversation and opens doors to help redefine society’s perception and understanding of deaf people.

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Inside Deaf U

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

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

In the fall of 2019, Gallaudet University welcomed New York-based Hot Snakes Media to our campus. Gallaudet alumnus Nyle DiMarco, ’13, served as executive producer along with several other deaf individuals and Gallaudet alumni to make this project a reality.

Our role was small–other than allowing filming on campus–Gallaudet had no official position with the creation, casting, or approval of Deaf U. Nevertheless, we appreciate both Hot Snakes Media and Netflix seeing the importance of involving deaf people both in front and behind the camera.

Who is Hot Snakes Media?

Hot Snakes Media is the New York-based production company responsible for Deaf U. The company was founded in 2011 by Shannon and Eric Evangelista and is well known for creative content that can be found on The Discovery Channel and TLC.
What have they made?

Breaking Amish (and subsequent followups)

The Sisterhood

Operation Osmin

And now, Deaf U

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0 %
Of new undergraduate students are New Signers.
0 %
Gallaudet graduates are either employed or furthering their education.
0 %
Tuition and fees are 38% less than the national average for public out-of-state tuition.

What type of students comes to Gallaudet?

1are from mainstream programs.

2are from deaf schools

3are transfers from other colleges

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.


Contact an admissions counselor to get started on college planning.

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

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

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

The “Reality” of it All

While we’re so proud to be represented and introduced to a large audience, there is no way for reality tv to capture the full experience of Gallaudet University. So, if you’re interested in attending Gallaudet or simply want to know more about our university after watching Deaf U, discover what sets us apart and makes us the world leader for deaf and hard of hearing education and research.

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As we get closer to go-live, readiness and training sessions will be provided. Various kinds of training will be available based on your role at Gallaudet University (faculty, staff, and student).

Workday Student will provide timely, cost-effective, mobile-enabled functionality to all users, including faculty, staff, and students. The product automates, simplifies, and standardizes processes that are currently manual. Having all aspects of the institution operated with Workday enables deeper reporting capabilities and effective communication between all departments.

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Bison (PeopleSoft). This is the current system where faculty, staff, and students access information about courses, grades, registering for classes, and paying for tuition. Additional systems that support the student experience are under review as the project timeline, and plans are finalized. ​

As we get closer to go-live, readiness and training sessions will be provided. Various kinds of training will be available based on your role at Gallaudet University (faculty, staff, and student).​

Implementation of Workday Student officially kicked off in September 2022. It is expected to take 24 months to complete and will be live in the Fall of 2024. Unlike the last deployment of HCM and Finance, Workday Student will have multiple deployments of functionally called rolling go-lives aligned with the Academic Calendar.  

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 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 multiple perspectives and definitions of what the term meant to them. While there is no real consensus on the meaning 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 the “Deaf elite.” Understanding power, privilege, and oppression are essential 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

Deaf U is a reality television series that will stream 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 was released on October 9, 2020. All episodes are now available.

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 Switched 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, an Associate Producer on the series. Peggy, who is deaf, is a Gallaudet graduate, and she 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 for me to say then, “Okay, let’s make a show together.” Peggy helped 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 genuine interest in our culture. People outside our community 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.

Hot Snakes Media produced deaf U.
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.

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 in 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 for roles on this show. Gallaudet University and its students were selected based on their life stories, personalities, connections with each other, and their ability to translate well on-screen.
Yes. However, filming took place over 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.
No, 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 is reaching 182 million Netflix subscribers in 190 countries. This show provides an opportunity to raise awareness of deaf and hard of hearing people, their lives, language, and culture, primarily at Gallaudet University. Deaf U provides younger deaf generations with another excellent example of career possibilities in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera.
  • Deaf U provides younger deaf generations with another excellent 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 a learning opportunity. 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.
We believe we need more narratives like Deaf U that elevate the complex stories of our deaf individuals and communities.
Absolutely! Visit our Undergraduate Admissions website for information on how to apply or even arrange a virtual tour
Visit our website. There is something for everyone there!
Our ASL Connect resource! With ASL Connect, you can learn the basics of ASL for free and even take Gallaudet ASL and Deaf Studies courses online.
Check back for updates of panel discussions and possible Deaf U events.
Yes, while we have hosted television and film crews in the past, Deaf U is the first series to be filmed on campus.