Switched at Birthdug into the campus racism storyline that will dominate two more episodes in the early part of the season on Tuesday night after a photo of Daphne (Katie Leclerc) with Mingo (Adam Hagenbuch) dressed as rapper L'il Wayne went viral.
Tuesday's episode delved into Daphne's white privilege of not seeing why Mingo's costume was offensive to her black peers and the question of whether free speech trumps the need for minorities to feel safe in social spaces. Switched will continue to explore the issue in Episodes 4 and 5, shifting the focus to the African-American students in Daphne's immediate circle and expand to larger racial issues happening on campus. The experience will also show Daphne a side of campus and give her a different perspective into an experience she's never been able to experience due to the color of her skin.
TVGuide.com talked to Switched creator Lizzy Weiss about the inspiration for the storyline, where it's going next and why Daphne felt like the right character to put in the middle of the controversy.
What made you want to tackle campus racism this season?
Weiss: The writers were convened in the fall of 2015, a year ago, and that was the number-one story on college campuses. It was an incredibly exciting time. I mean, controversial in the same way that the year before that in the fall, campus assault was really everywhere. It just felt like, in the same way, we absolutely have to talk about what college kids are talking about. We absolutely had to do that with race as well. Things happened at Yale. There was an e-mail that caused a lot of controversy and got people talking, which was good. It got them into a conversation.
Then things happened at the University of Missouri, which were quite astonishing to me. I feel like I heard about the story one day and within 36 hours the football team had managed to topple the university president that they wanted out. It was pretty extraordinary. I was just really inspired by the kids' activism and them coming together to say, "We're going to do something about this. We're not just going to complain. We're going to make a statement." It took a lot of courage for those football players to put themselves on the line. Of course, there was the grad student who went on the hunger strike protest. There were just all these incredible African-American leaders doing something for their community.
The important thing for me is to just get a conversation going, to really try to have a lot of different sides represented so that the characters are all talking to each other and hopefully it creates a conversation off screen as well, like we did with campus assault.
Why put Daphne at the center of it? Was it equity since Bay had the campus assault storyline last season?
Weiss: I think you're right. Part of it was Bay had been put through the ringer in a lot of ways emotionally last season. Just for the character of Daphne, we thought it would be really interesting. On the one hand she's deaf. She's Puerto Rican, or she thinks of herself as Puerto Rican even though her skin is white, but who has a bit of a blind spot or a different perspective on race. To really throw her in to that so that she starts off confused by why something that happens is causing such a stir with her black friends. Then to really take her through a journey, but eventually we shift and we put our black characters at the forefront of the story.
How is this going to affect Daphne going forward?
Weiss: Daphne really struggles to figure out both what she did wrong and truly understand that and then try to mend it. As we shift and slowly start moving towards the perspective of our black characters, Iris in Episode 2 really grows in importance. We get to hear her voice and really hear from our black characters [about] what it feels like to walk around a campus in black skin. What are things that white students and white viewers don't realize? Let's really ask them.
This episode was filmed a year ago, how has the perspective changed considering current political events?
Obviously, it's a year later and it's been an election in which all of these issues have come out. A lot of people have come out and said, "Oh, I didn't know. I didn't realize." Women and African-Americans in this country have said, "Well, we've realized it all this time. Now these things are shining a light on it, but we've been walking around all this time experiencing it." It was just exciting creatively and politically to feel like we could have our black kids say, "This happens all the time and not everyone knows it. We're going to get a chance to talk about it."
Switched at Birth continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on Freeform.