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Why I Believe 'Deaf U' Was a Missed Opportunity for the Deaf Community

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Netflix, you have had some fantastic series come out lately, but I am sorry to say that in my opinion, “Deaf U” is not among them. Deaf culture is such a vibrant and visual culture. However, attending college on a culturally Deaf campus is not all about sex.

It is OK to have sex if you’re Deaf! That’s completely normal and human. Partying? Sure, some people get unofficial “degrees” in throwing and attending parties while in college. It’s typical! However, Netflix, I don’t need to tell you that you are a huge worldwide streaming service of around 200 million subscribers. Your reach is enormous, and the service can be used for good, bad or plain ugly. It’s an excellent platform to showcase an incredibly unique culture and potentially make a movie starring a Deaf main character. However, I don’t think a “reality show” like this was the optimal opportunity.

I have a hard time even calling this an actual “reality show” and not a joke. The delivery of the content was entirely off. This was such a missed opportunity to talk with many students rather than six to eight and maybe even talk to some other people affiliated with the university, like professors and other staff. I thought I was watching a show about many high schoolers who happened to be culturally deaf.

I know that opinions on the show are very mixed, especially right now as the show is practically brand new to the platform, and emotions are a bit raw in both worlds. I think it would have been cool to see Gallaudet University sorority and fraternity life. I get that talking about sorority life would be like talking about partying. Still, sororities and fraternities entail so much more than drinking and partying if one looks at them critically enough.

What about the clubs on campus? What are the largest classes like when you are all trying to see someone’s hands from 30 rows back in an auditorium? What’s it like taking notes during lectures when someone moves their hands continuously while you are trying to sign too? All of these might seem “normal” within Deaf culture, but the average hearing individual might find this interesting. I know I would, and I live in a world that is not quite “Deaf,” but I am not a member of the “hearing world” either. I am from a middle world of sorts. My world. The cochlear implant and hearing aid world that millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans occupy. But I am really happy they highlighted that someone can be deaf, sign and speak.

While I am not culturally deaf (as in I interact with the hearing world and hearing friends for the most part), I am very aware of Deaf culture from learning American Sign Language (ASL) from a young age and taking college-level courses on the subject from Deaf people that happened to be professors too. Everyone I have had the chance to interact with regarding the series from both the Deaf and hearing worlds has been disgusted. I don’t want others unfamiliar with the culture to be getting the wrong idea. Some people are worried that people of color haven’t been represented enough and that there was not enough diversity. And I agree — there wasn’t enough diversity!

Please show me the dorms. What’s the cafeteria like? The campus of Gallaudet University. Show me more of the deaf world! I understand it is a small world, and it is really easy to be ostracized like the show mentioned. But why? Show me more! Less partying. Less sex. Show me the essential parts of the culture! Putting ASL on the big screen, pretty much for the first time since the release of “Children of a Lesser God,” is a wonderful start, but show us more variety.

Image via Netflix.

Originally published: October 13, 2020
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