Nyle DiMarco shares how working on Deaf U made him reflect on his own college experience
Nyle DiMarco had so much fun attending Gallaudet University that he left behind a memento for future generations: a permanent ban on inflatable pools in dorm rooms.
The model and actor recently took a trip down memory lane with EW while promoting Deaf U, a new Netflix docuseries he executive-produced that chronicles the ups and downs of students' lives at Gallaudet, the world's first institution offering advanced education to deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Deaf U has really resonated with viewers since launching this month. How are you feeling?
NYLE DIMARCO: I'm overwhelmed with all the positive reactions; it's exactly what we were hoping for. My favorite part has been how people have been so amazed that they take this deep dive into another world. As someone from the deaf community, I see this simply as a scratching of the surface. We have so much more to offer and show if we're given more opportunities and future seasons.
On social media, many viewers have expressed surprise at how relatable the subjects are, both in their life experiences and as students. Is that what you were hoping for?
Absolutely! From my experience on America's Top Model and Dancing With the Stars, I saw that as the sole deaf contestant on reality TV that all the questions for me were aimed at my deafness. They never asked me about my personal life or about what I enjoy. I felt that this was very limiting. They cast me as this very one-dimensional character on screen, which was a very frustrating experience for me. I got asked questions like, "Can deaf people drive?" Which led me to the perfect opportunity to show Braxton [Baker] behind the wheel with Alexa [Paulay-Simmons] on Deaf U.
Did the cast find anything particularly challenging?
On the show, we see Tessa [Lewis] and Daequan [Taylor], who come from opposite ends of what we consider the deaf spectrum. Tessa felt like she shouldn't be involved in the beginning because she felt like she couldn't represent the deaf community and all of its diversity. Daequan felt like he also couldn't represent it all either, but really that was the point of the show. There is no right way to be deaf. It was key that we show them as a representation of who we are as a community.
How much of what we saw was scripted vs. unscripted?
That's tough to say because this is a reality TV show. In a lot of situations, of course, we would send them to a bar or a swimming pool just to see how it would play out. But the cast was allowed to lead their own lives as normal.
We saw how cliques within the community affected the students. What can be done about that?
You know, the conversation around cliques is one that is definitely needed. There are people like me who'd be labeled as part of the elites because I come from a deaf family, I grew up in the deaf community, and I went to deaf schools. There was a time when I arrived at Gallaudet not considering other students coming in without the same background. So maybe my behavior could've been perceived as harmful by them. It's really a conversation about learning our own positioning within our community and learning how we're leveraging our positioning to support the entirety of the community and back one another as a whole.
One of the subjects, Cheyenna Clearbrook, ended up leaving school because of how the elites treated her. How is she doing?
Cheyenna left the university. She posted last week on Instagram that she had realized a little bit more about her positioning within the community and what she called "elite behavior." She admitted that she had weaponized the phrase "Am I not deaf enough?" in an effort to insert herself into this group. Which, the elites would be considered the minority of the entire deaf population. It's specific to language fluency, deaf identity, and deaf culture. You see that that's really a part of that group. You can see how that caused a lot of frustration and a lot of upset. It's something I think was really internalized.
The other thing here is that a lot of deaf people don't have access to mental health resources. There aren't a lot of deaf therapists out there. Working with a hearing therapist doesn't provide the same kind of cultural understanding and knowledge, which leads to a lot of internalized issues that we're not able to express or resolve. In turn, it becomes a sort of weaponization within our own community, which leads to a lot of fighting. Deaf U has started a lot of conversations, specifically about how we see one another and how we can start understanding our position within this.
In the true spirit of the college experience, the subjects kept swapping love interests! Let's gossip about the love connections!
[Laughs] I know, tell me about it! I felt the same way. I was really frustrated with Dalton [Taylor]. I kept yelling, "Come on! Shoot your shot!" Yeah, I don't get it. Then Rodney [Burford], too. I think in the end, you can see that Rodney had his first love. It's tough to let go of your first love. What I can tell you for sure is that I'm glad there wasn't any Snapchat while I was in school.
Oh yeah? Did you cause a lot of trouble at school?
Wow. Let me first say that my last year in a college dorm, I bought an inflatable pool, blew it up, and had a party on the sixth floor of my dorm. I filled the pool up with water, everyone was swimming. Whoa, history was made that day! Funny enough, the next morning the head of the university came up and buzzed my dorm room and said, "I heard you hosted a pool party here. The first time in the school's history. Which is great, because it's also the last." He explained the new rule would be going into the handbook the following year. I was proud to be able to check off that I made into the handbook.
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