Facing food insecurity at home, he worked tirelessly to advocate for others in similar positions

“The whole semester was just this sort of extended challenge, never having enough time, struggling to get enough food to sustain myself, and isolated like everyone else … On the other hand, being able to get through the semester having done the work that I did, having gotten through to the other side, was a big triumph”

Facing+food+insecurity+at+home%2C+he+worked+tirelessly+to+advocate+for+others+in+similar+positions

By Claire Healy, Assistant News Editor

When the pandemic started, and Chancellor Subbaswammy announced guidelines for which students could return to the University of Massachusetts’ campus, some students who couldn’t come back were left in a difficult position. For one student, the public nature of the guidelines meant he stayed an environment that was hard on his mental health, and where he faced food insecurity. Adam Lechowicz, a junior studying computer science and political science, spent the fall semester at home, during which he described in a series of emails the different challenges he faced and his tireless work to help other students in a similar situation.

The decision to stay at home was partially made for him, and partially calculated by him. Since he did not have any classes on campus, he felt he didn’t have a “justification” he could give his family without causing issues at home. He weighed some other factors, but when the spring semester rolled around, he enrolled in on-campus classes in order to have that clear reason to return.

“There were also two other factors; at first, I bargained with myself and thought that the Fall semester could be manageable at home, because the online half of the Spring semester hadn’t been too bad in terms of workload and I had time to get out of the house – this didn’t end up being the case.  Of course, with college being as expensive as it is, saving money on room and board was also something I considered,” he explained.

In early October, as with many of his peers, he found himself buried under assignments that seemed to keep piling up. Despite taking the same number of credits the semester before, he felt his workload had dramatically increased this semester, as professors added assignments that just felt like “busy work.” In other classes a “flipped classroom” option, where lectures are recordings assigned as homework, and class time is dedicated to follow-up activities, “doubled the time commitment” for him.

“It’s rough, and I think it’s rough for everyone. As for me particularly, it has manifested in a unique situation where my to-do list is so overwhelmed that there are legitimately days where I have to squeeze in enough time in a day to make and eat one meal — I think there’s reasonable criticism that I should’ve just dropped a course or two to give myself more time in the average day, but I’m stuck with this dilemma between graduating somewhat on time and taking fewer than 20 credits,” he explained.

“I’ve been trying to go out and purchase food for myself from the grocery store as well, which has helped with my situation overall, but also falls to the same drawback that ‘sometimes I just don’t have time.’”

As he juggled schoolwork, Lechowicz also dove into campus advocacy and student government. He worked on one of the fall planning working groups with UMass administration, where he consistently prioritized students who shared similar experiences with him. He continued this work into the spring semester, as a student member of the planning groups for the spring. In this position, he continued to emphasize the importance of bringing back students who rely on the physical campus for stability.

“I approached them through the lens that the changes would help students in general, but particularly students who have to deal with situational uncertainty in their daily lives – hopefully one of these successful advocacy efforts made a difference for someone,” he said.

As the secretary of technology for the SGA, he helped orchestrate three “email campaigns” over the course of the year for the SGA. In these campaigns, students could send emails to UMass admin in support of a policy change. The first was in support of a revised pass/fail policy that resulted in the extension of the pass/fail option through the spring semester. The second supported a student employment policy change that would give compensation for both on-campus and off-campus student workers during the Spring semester lockdown. The last campaign protested proposed tuition and fee increases for room, board and out-of-state tuition costs, which was not successful.

In October, as he worked on campaigns for other students, he began planning a spring semester that would be better than his fall one. Facing challenges in accessing food, and with social isolation taking its toll on his mental health, he wanted the spring semester to be different.

“This week has been particularly hard in terms of food, to be completely honest with you – I feel like that has affected my thinking for the upcoming semester. I’ve been trying to look for an internship that would let me basically take a gap semester over the Spring and get me out of the house. I’ve only gotten one response so far, but I remain optimistic. I’m still enrolling in some classes just in case, and I am wholeheartedly planning on applying for on-campus needs-based housing this time so that I can have a consistent source of food in my life,” he said. “If my application goes through, I’m planning on telling my dad that I have an on-campus class, or some similar deflection, to avoid scrutiny into it – it’s a bit of a delicate topic. If my application isn’t accepted, I want to try to move out for the spring. A lot of my friends live off campus in the Amherst area, and I may try to see if I can either sublet, couch-hop, or get one of my other friends interested in a joint lease.”

In February, when asked what he believes is most important for people to understand about the impact of the pandemic, he emphasized that the effects are often closer than someone may initially think.

“I think the most important thing for people to understand about the pandemic is how the constraints of all of this can just have unintentional and sometimes surprising side effects on people that are closer than you’d expect,” he said. “In this society, where life is a delicate balance that can be thrown off by the slightest disturbance, something like the pandemic does that to a huge amount of people. Check in on your friends and make sure they’re doing okay.”

Reflecting on his semester as a whole, he described it as an “extended challenge,” but noted that his ability to get through it, and do all the work he did, felt like a major triumph.

“The whole semester was just this sort of extended challenge, never having enough time, struggling to get enough food to sustain myself, and isolated like everyone else. There were definitely a few weeks here and there where the workload/isolation combination really got to me and made everything really difficult. On the other hand, being able to get through the semester having done the work that I did, having gotten through to the other side, was a big triumph.”

During the spring semester, Lechowicz lived on campus, and he said that his mental health “improved tremendously” almost immediately after getting to campus.

“Despite everything going on at the beginning of the semester with COVID, the campus’ shift to high risk, and the isolation that brought, simply being here and having that stability in terms of food and material well-being really helped me deal with an otherwise isolated semester with a heavy workload,” he said. “I think that, for me, my experience this past academic year really underscores how much material circumstances have ripple effects on other aspects of wellbeing.  This pandemic has exacerbated structural inequities in our society.”

“I think UMass should take steps to better support these student populations which disproportionately suffer from instability – housing, food, or situational insecurity – in their lives, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students.”

Claire Healy can be reached at [email protected].