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Staff Snapshot: Areca Smit, storyteller and camping enthusiast

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If you’ve enjoyed the compelling and timely podcasts produced and released by UC Hastings this past year, you’ve had a glimpse into the vision and storytelling power of Associate Director for Electronic Media Areca Smit. With topics like Black experiences within the UC Hastings community and the legal implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Areca has drawn upon the lived experiences and expertise of UC Hastings’ students, faculty, staff and alumni to offer fresh perspectives, personal insight and professional knowledge on some of today’s most challenging topics.

A legal perspective of an unprecedented time

Why should COVID-19 in California prisons matter to you? Are shelter-in-place orders constitutional? How has the pandemic affected the U.S. asylum system? These are just some of the thorny legal issues that Areca and co-host Drew Amerson, director of LexLab, have tackled in a conversational manner during their podcast series, “Law and the Pandemic.”

Areca and Drew launched the series in May 2020, just two months after Americans began grasping the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. When a friend mentioned a podcast about mental health and the pandemic, Areca saw an opportunity. She realized that UC Hastings was in a unique position to be helpful during this challenging time. And though the show highlights faculty research in relevant areas, its audience isn’t limited to fellow scholars, or even those within the legal field. “I designed this series to support the general public in the ongoing process of understanding and managing the changes and impacts of pandemic life,” says Areca. “I monitor topics in the news, listen for the concerns coming up for people in the community and think about what’s unclear to me around the pandemic. I tend to think that if I have questions, others may, too.” Because things change quickly in the COVID-19 world, Areca plans follow-up episodes to keep her audience informed.

The series also serves as a resource for UC Hastings and other law students who face unique pandemic-related challenges — one episode featured alums Cindy Muro and Shandyn H. Pierce, who experienced the first virtual administration of the California Bar Exam. “I learned so much from that conversation and I hope it will be informative for the Class of 2021 and others,” Areca says. Going forward, she hopes to include even more UC Hastings alums. “There are many doing extraordinary work in the community, from setting up clinics to other pro-bono efforts.”

Uplifting Black voices

In June 2020, the national media was flooded by coverage of the senseless and tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many other Black Americans at the hands of public law enforcement. A wave of widespread public condemnation and national protests followed. For scholars, activists and organizations that had long studied and condemned anti-Black racism in the U.S., it was an important moment to add their voices to the national conversation — and to help cultivate a deeper understanding of racism’s impact at a local level.

Professors Shauna Marshall and Alina Ball, codirectors of the Center for Racial and Economic Justice, approached Areca with a proposal for a podcast that would feature Black members of the UC Hastings community sharing their lived experiences in their own voices. “I recognized the opportunity to have a big impact on our community and beyond. Working on this project was my way to participate in one of the Hastings’ efforts to meet this moment of reckoning happening across our country and the world,” says Areca.

She soon began producing “Black Hastings Speaks,” a six-episode podcast series modeled after StoryCorps. It was a challenging and rewarding experience. “The participants were extraordinarily brave sharing their stories with great candor and trust. My goal was to effectively distill these important conversations — without altering their tenor — and make them as accessible as possible,” Areca says. “I was nervous to release this work because it’s so personal for the participants, but the reception from the community was tremendous and very supportive. Even the board of directors listened to the series. It was clear that people were eager to listen, engage and work on being a community that continuously strives to be diverse, equitable and inclusive.”

The future of content creation

We’d be remiss not to emphasize that San Francisco County, where UC Hastings is located, began operating under a shelter-in-place order on March 16, 2020. The campus is still closed for nonessential activities, so all episodes for both podcasts were self-recorded by participants in their homes. While this process brought challenges, Areca sees the possibilities it could offer. “Works made this way may not have met quality standards before the pandemic, but they are acceptable now because we have no choice but to produce this way,” she says. “I hope this flexibility continues because it allows people like me to produce more projects with the same budget.”

In a similar vein of content-driven inspiration, Areca is also known for her appreciation of TikTok: “There’s a lot to learn from a worldwide community of content producers creating all manner of complex video content in a minute or less!”

Meet Areca

Name: Areca Smit

Job title: Associate Director for Electronic Media

Department/unit: Communications 

Location/campus: UC Hastings

When did you start working for UC? I’ve been at Hastings since 2019, but also worked two stints at Berkeley Law

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Communications strategy, development and management

Why do you love working for UC? It’s engaging working for a small, dynamic institution like UC Hastings Law. The college has so many big initiatives underway, including the new Academic Village, that there’s never a dull moment. Every day is different, which is exciting. I also feel fortunate that my colleagues are receptive to trying new things and are great partners. This includes the chief of communications, Sybil Wyatt, who I’m fortunate to count as a mentor.

What’s something people don’t know about you? People are always surprised to learn that I’m happiest when I get to sleep in my tent. I’m an avid car camper and I’m now venturing into dispersed camping which is like backpacking with your car (for free) in national forests. Between wildfires and the pandemic, I haven’t camped nearly as much in the last year, but I’m looking forward to getting out and about again soon.

Name one person (living or dead) with whom you’d love to have dinner. I would love to have the fanciest dinner ever with Beyoncé. She’s a creative par excellence, a successful entrepreneur, she develops and mentors other artists, and has one of the best live albums of all time. I could go on and on about Beyoncé.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? A long-time UC Berkeley employee and friend, Sheri Showalter, once told me that people work for people. It’s simple, but profound, because it’s both an observation and advice that tie into the care one should take when deciding who to work for, how you manage the people who work for you, the impacts of staff change on organizations and core motivating factors for most people in the workplace.

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