Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MTV’s next reality star: Gallaudet University series, "Quiet Campus"

From The NY Times:

MTV’s college channel, mtvU, which has taken its cameras and microphones into lectures, concerts and protests at schools across the country, will next attempt to capture university life of an entirely different nature: a campus where nearly all students are deaf.

On Monday, the cable network will formally announce the debut of a short-form series, “Quiet Campus,” that will follow four students at Gallaudet University, the four-year school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C.

In spite of the school’s unique mission, those involved say that the series, which is set to premiere on Oct. 24, will deliver drama characteristic of MTV programming and college life, with footage of class lectures and keg parties alike.

“Students here are just like students anywhere else,” said Catherine Murphy, a spokeswoman for the university. “They’re typical undergraduates.”

Paul Ricci, executive producer of mtvU and creator of the series, said that “Quiet Campus” was inspired by his desire to illustrate the universality of the college experience.

Six years ago, Mr. Ricci took cameras on spring break with two dozen deaf college students to capture their vacation in one short episode. Since then, he said, he had wanted to expand on that piece and follow deaf students in their everyday lives. While his proposal was initially met with skepticism by Gallaudet and its students, mtvU ultimately won its participants over with its emphasis on the normalcy of living life with a hearing impairment.

“Our goal was to get into the school culture and see it through these kids’ eyes,” Mr. Ricci said. “By the end, we want viewers to almost forget these students are deaf.”

To do so, the show chose to focus on common collegiate themes: competition in the classroom and the sports arena; relationships and sexuality; independent living away from home.

The show’s principal characters include a gay Latino student, a charismatic football player and a young woman who lost her hearing in chemotherapy treatment. There is also a young man trying to, as mtvU puts it, “find his way out of the friend zone,” and perhaps kindle a romantic spark with the aforementioned cancer survivor.

Three of the featured students were interviewed via e-mail by The Choice, calling the experience of having a camera trained on them “weird” — in the words of one — but worth it.

“It’s important that the audience can finally realize that we can relate to the same lifestyle as them,” wrote Clayton Lawson, who is now a junior at Gallaudet. “Just because we’re deaf doesn’t mean we don’t have a social life or go through normal, everyday problems.”

With a fused focus on the college experience and the hearing impaired, the show will echo two past MTV series: “College Life,” which featured undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and “True Life: I’m Deaf,” which followed, among others, a young, hard-of-hearing woman who studied at Towson University in Maryland.

“Quiet Campus,” which will include voiceovers and subtitles, will likely resonate with fans of “Switched at Birth,” the popular ABC Family series — launched in June to record-breaking ratings — which follows the fictional lives of two high school girls, one of them deaf and debating enrolling in a hearing school.

The show will also provide a window into the world of higher education for the deaf, allowing prospective students — hearing-impaired or not — to experience campus reality without an in-person visit.

While “Quiet Campus” will feature deaf students exclusively, Gallaudet, which had an acceptance rate of 75 percent in 2009, enrolls both deaf and hearing undergraduates in its annual class of about 300. Hearing students must have some proficiency in American Sign Language and are limited to 5 percent of the student population unless majoring in interpretation, Ms. Murphy said. They are required to complete a different application for admission along with an in-person interview, not required for deaf students.

Gallaudet’s admissions are rolling, and while the school draws students from around the world, according to Ms. Murphy, there are three feeder high schools from which a large number of Gallaudet undergraduates matriculate: Maryland School for the Deaf, California School for the Deaf and Gallaudet’s own high school in Washington.

“Quiet Campus” will premiere at Gallaudet on Wednesday, and its first episode will air on mtvU on Oct. 24 at 12 p.m. New episodes will continue for four weeks thereafter.

“I really hope this show will not only change people’s close-minded perspectives of Gallaudet,” Mr. Lawson, one of the students in the series, concluded, “but that it also puts the school on the map.”