Updated at 1:45 p.m. Dec. 10

A group of around 100 Lesley University students and a handful of faculty members gathered on the Cambridge campus Thursday to protest what they describe as the “university administration’s refusal to meet our basic needs,” including clean water, heat in student housing, working laundry machines, transportation, security on campus and food that is both available and safe to eat.

“I don't know where the money that we're paying for tuition is going, because I don't see it in my housing and I don't see it in my food,” sophomore and protest organizer Él Martinez, 20, said. “We don’t want to be out here protesting … but this is the last straw. The students are fed up.”

Several buildings on Lesley’s historic campus have required maintenance and repair over the last semester, and accommodations have been made after students filed complaints about broken laundry machines, spoiled or expired food and unavailable school shuttles. The university said the students' complaints are not indicative of systemic issues at the school.

Several students alleged they experienced sickness after consuming rotten food or undercooked meats provided by food contractor Aramark. Lesley students echoed similar complaints made by Simmons students, who created a petition in November to end the school’s contract with the food service provider. A spokesperson for Lesley said that university personnel work closely with Aramark employees to ensure that food standards are met, and denied claims of a larger systemic issue.

“While we are working closely with a group of students to discuss their concerns and our steps to address them — including issues we have experienced this fall with our laundry and transportation services — we can unequivocally confirm that these are isolated issues and there are no systemic issues around fundamental services,” a Lesley spokesperson told GBH News in a statement. “We look forward to ongoing dialogue as we continue to make progress on resolving these issues effectively and with urgency.”

Throughout the fall semester, the university asked students to be patient as it coped with ongoing supply chain issues that affected students’ meal plans, a $3,450-per-semester mandatory plan for all on-campus students.

“We are faced with unprecedented shortages of food and packaging materials, massive delays and cancellations of deliveries by our vendors, and unpredictable substitutions of items with different products by our vendors,” a notice posted on the Lesley website reads.

In a petition created last week, students demanded that meals be made available seven days a week in both campus dining halls, and that “meals must all be edible … fully cooked, at appropriate temperature, free of mold, and within date of expiration.”

In response to the petition, on-duty chefs are also now required to send photos of labelling and menus to managers for approval “to eliminate potential onsite errors when food supply changes necessitate last minute menu changes,” university President Janet L. Steinmayer wrote in a note to students on Tuesday. In addition, the university has partnered with GrubHub to allow for free delivery of takeout meals for all students, faculty and staff, and “grab and go” meals are provided when the Washburn dining hall — one of two dining halls on campus — is not staffed. Rides from campus safety can also be arranged for students who wish to dine in the cafeteria across campus.

“When we experimented with providing more extensive dinner services on South Campus,” Steinmayer wrote, “the result was a large amount of food waste.”

A protester holds a sign reading "Lesley lies" outside a residential building. A small crowd of other protesters are behind them.
Lesley sophomore Él Martinez holds a sign at a protest demanding better living conditions at the university's three Cambridge campuses, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021
Tori Bedford GBH News

At the beginning of their fall semester, Martinez and other students from Winthrop Hall, a dorm built in 1914, were relocated to other campus housing due to burst pipes that resulted in unsanitary water and leakage from ceilings. “We were moved back into the building without access to water for days,” Martinez said, “and we didn't know if our water was safe to drink because the water was running brown when we arrived.”

The water across all campus buildings is now “100% potable or safe to drink, bathe and wash in,” Steinmayer told students in a statement on Tuesday. Repairs on broken sinks in one dorm have been delayed until after the end of the semester, and the university is providing bottled water to accommodate students in that dorm, according to a Lesley spokesperson.

Lesley University is in the process of a large-scale transition, announced last fall, that includes renovations of dorms and other academic buildings across the school’s three campuses, using funds from the sale of underutilized or vacant buildings on the 16-acre campus in Cambridge. Focus group meetings about the proposal are ongoing, and include student perspectives, according to a Lesley spokesperson.

“In this campus plan, they talk about doing renovations and making changes and investing money into the campus,” Martinez said. “But that should have happened before students moved in and didn't have access to these very critical necessities.”

Maggie Zecker, a 20-year-old junior political science major, says the university took five weeks to fix a broken radiator in her room. “I purchased a heated blanket and sucked it up for a little while,” Zecker told GBH News on Thursday. “Portable heaters are not allowed in dorms either, so that made it a little bit difficult.”

In her letter to students, Steinmayer recommended that on-campus residents submit work orders regarding issues with hot water, noting that “unfortunately, with the current supply chain issues that are out of our control, if a part is needed for a repair, it may take a bit longer than we would like.”

Sophomore photography student Grace Madonna, 20, says her on-campus friends have come to her Cambridge apartment to shower on multiple occasions when hot water was unavailable in their dorms. Though she lives off-campus, Madonna says she has experienced difficulty accessing academic buildings and labs for her work, and expressed concern about security on campus.

Lesley junior Nikki Pietricola, 21, hands out packets of ramen at a protest of the school's current services, including food provisions, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021
Tori Bedford GBH News

“We have asked multiple times to have around-the-clock security because the [photography lab] is open from eight a.m. to midnight, but we've only had security from about seven to 10 p.m., despite multiple asks for longer hours.”

Security is provided 24/7 with officers on each campus, and the university is working on providing a phone app to make reporting incidents more convenient for students, according to Lesley Chief Operations Officer Joanne Kossuth.

The university is also in the process of creating a web dashboard for COVID-19 information, Kossuth told GBH News in an email Thursday. Periodic updates are also provided to the community via email, and contact tracing and testing are provided by Cataldo Ambulance Service, which conducts weekly testing for vaccinated members of the on-campus university community and twice per week for people with vaccine exemptions. Since August, five residents, three commuters and three on-campus employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Kossuth.

After multiple complaints about non-functional laundry machines provided by a laundry vendor the school “isn’t happy with,” laundry services will be provided for free in the spring semester, and the school is actively looking for another laundry vendor, according to Kossuth.

Approximately 6,000 students are enrolled at Lesley, paying an annual tuition of $51,170 before aid, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education. Around 600 of those students live on campus, according to a Lesley spokesperson. The school is known for its unique focus on innovation in education, the arts and well-being.

“Lesley University values the opinions and input from all members of our community, including the entire student body, and encourages their efforts to voice their beliefs in a constructive manner,” a university spokesperson told GBH News in a statement Thursday. “In fact, Lesley is known for developing an active and engaged student body.”

At the rally Thursday, students sang protest songs and held signs that read “$50,000 for this?” and “clean water is a basic human need.” Nikki Pietricola, a 21-year-old junior illustration major, handed out packets of ramen to protesters gathered outside the school’s old admissions building. “We don’t get edible food, so this will have to do,” Pietricola said.

Holding a sign that read “‘warm regards’ are meaningless if you don’t have heat,” junior Maggie Zecker said she hopes the protest will put pressure on school officials to “not have us worried about things we shouldn’t be focused on” and let students be students.

“We should be focused on getting good grades, having good experiences with our internships and making a difference in the world,” Zecker said. “We shouldn’t be worried about our basic human needs.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Maggie Zecker last name