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Ruthie Wellen, ECOLE Facilitator

Ruthie Wellen is a Fourth Year student in Honours Sociology with a minor in Geography. She works as an ECOLE (Educational Community Living Environment) Facilitator , where she lives in a house with other facilitators, who dedicate their lives towards the mission of ECOLE, a project that promotes a “culture of sustainability.” Besides working towards creating a community to discuss and research sustainability, Ruthie is involved in a research project, where she is investigating the experiences of queer and trans prisoners. This amazingly motivated and fun-loving celeb also sings in a choir. Read on to learn more about Ruthie and her amazing work in the community with ECOLE.


Annie Rubin for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill): What is ECOLE?

Ruthie Wellen (RW): ECOLE, which stands for Educational Community Living Environment, is a project that aspires to be a space that facilitates a culture of sustainability at McGill University and its surrounding communities through research, teaching, experimentation, living practices, and collaboration with student and community groups. We seek to be a central space for people that will integrate the many projects related to environmental sustainability on campus, provide a home for interdisciplinary applied student research, bring together the Milton-Parc and McGill communities, and serve as a focal point and meeting space for sustainability projects and groups. The three pillars of ECOLE are living, learning and community:

          Living: Eight facilitators live in the house while experimenting with materially and socially sustainable living practices.

          Learning: ECOLE promotes Applied Student Research and alternative forms of education by providing a space for workshops, skill-sharing sessions, and community events and by developing resources, guidelines, and support for students interested in ASR. Additionally, each of the Facilitators is completing an ASR project. (For more info on ASR, click here).

          Community: Providing space, resources and networks for sustainability organizing at McGill and in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood; providing an open and inclusive community space that sustainability-related groups and individuals can use for events, meetings, and social activities.

HC McGill: How long have you been an ECOLE Facilitator?

RW:  Just for the 2014/2015 school year

HC McGill: What kind of work do you do as a Facilitator?

RW: As an ECOLE Facilitator, I am responsible for living in the house alongside seven other facilitators in an experiment in sustainable living. Facilitators are responsible for maintaining and facilitating the space alongside other collective members using non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision-making. As a member of the programming and finance sub-committees, I am personally focusing on planning and facilitating programming such as CinemaECOLE and our skillsharing workshop series. Additionally I am helping to plan an end of year research symposium and running a student fee-levy to help secure long-term funding for the project. I’m also conducting a community-based research project, which is exploring the barriers that queer and trans prisoners face in prison and in re-entry.

HC McGill: What other activities have you been involved with during your time at McGill?

RW: Aside from ECOLE, I was involved for two years on the SSMU Equity Committee, running workshops, campaigns, and discussions to promote anti-oppression and help make the McGill campus a safe(r) space. I also work as a Student Ambassador at the Campus Connect recruitment events in the spring (my fourth year doing this). In the summer after my second year, I completed a Faculty of Arts internship at a really awesome non-profit in Toronto called Jane’s Walk, which facilitates neighbourhood-led walking tours and empowers residents and community groups to share stories and knowledge about their neighbourhoods. I also sing in a choir!

HC McGill: Why does working with ECOLE interest you?

RW: It’s a completely unique and experimental project that challenges traditional notions of education and promotes community building and collaboration, all things that I’m really interested in. It’s also really cool to work with such a diverse group of facilitators and collective members, all with completely different backgrounds and perspectives on sustainability. When we’re approaching an issue or planning an event, people come up with ideas and considerations that a single person could never have thought up on their own. This is only the first year of the project and it’s been an incredibly successful year in terms of establishing ourselves as a hub for sustainability at McGill and getting the word out about our space and what we do. If we can secure sustainable funding, I will be extremely excited to see how the project continues to grow and move towards our long-term goals (like establishing ourselves as an Applied Student Research Institute at McGill!).

HC McGill: How did you originally hear about the project?

RW: I learned about it from Courtney Ayukawa – the current SSMU president and one of the previous ECOLE coordinators who helped to get the project off the ground.

HC McGill: How do you manage to balance schoolwork while living full-time in a house with other people who are all so committed to this community of sustainability?

RW: I think it’s been really important for me to have realistic expectations this year about how much I’ll be able to take on and get done – both at ECOLE and also with schoolwork. All the facilitators are in the same boat with trying to figure out a balance, so we all try and be kind and understanding when other commitments take priority. I’ve also tried to spend a bit of time each day not thinking about school or ECOLE. The nature of the project requires it to be really time and energy intensive – it’s your home and your work. Making time for seeing friends outside the house and allowing myself to just relax sometimes has been a really important way of preventing burnout and maintaining my commitment to the project.

HC McGill: What’s your favourite memory from your time at McGill?

RW: I think it may have involved some pineapples and an all-you-can-eat buffet but I couldn’t be sure…

HC McGill: How have your extracurricular activities helped shape your experience in University?

RW: My extracurricular experiences at McGill have entirely shaped and defined my university experience. McGill is huge and it wasn’t really until my final year that I started to have classes that were small enough to make friends and get to know the professor. My extracurricular involvements have provided me with a community and a sense of belonging that I would never have found at McGill had I only been attending classes and going to the library.

HC McGill: Do you have any advice about being involved in activities on and off campus? And how can people get involved with ECOLE?

RW: I would encourage anyone and everyone at McGill to get involved doing things they are passionate about outside of academics. My advice is to just take the risk and try something new! I can be really shy when it comes to starting a new activity or involvement, especially when I don’t know anyone, but I’ve never regretted a single extracurricular I’ve tried out or workshop or discussion that I attended, even if I’m completely terrified at first! University can and should be about so much more than just academics.

And if you’re interested in getting involved at ECOLE, I would recommend coming to one of our collective meetings – we meet every Monday at 6 pm at the ECOLE house (3559 University St.) We are always welcoming new collective members and have lots of projects happening at the moment that we could definitely use help with!

HC McGill: What motivates you to get up every morning?

RW: The people that I care about and the activities and causes that I’m passionate about.

HC McGill: What’s the “most McGill” thing you’ve ever done?

RW: The “most McGill” thing I’ve ever done was probably pulling an all-nighter at McLennan, then writing/failing an Econ midterm, then walking back up the hill to Upper Rez while trying to convince myself that grades don’t define me.

HC McGill: How have you changed as a person since you attended McGill/joined Ecole?

RW: I’m definitely a lot less naïve and bit more jaded than I was when I started at McGill. I no longer think I can “save the world” and I have a far more complex understanding of various social issues, and systems of oppression and privilege. I’m also a lot more confident in myself, willing to take risks and sure of who I am and what I’m passionate about.

HC McGill: What’s your favorite thing to do in Montreal?

RW: Anything outdoors in the summer. Especially Sunday afternoon tam tams, walking up the mountain, and picnics in the park.

HC McGill: Do you want to make a shout out to anyone?

RW: Shout out to the rest of the ECOLE facilitators and collective who all deserve to be Campus Celebrities!


To learn more about ECOLE, check out their website.


Photos provided by the interviewee.


Annie is currently a second-year at McGill University. She is working towards a double major in Spanish and Russian, with a minor in International Relations, and enjoys writing about the experience of being a college student. When she's not in class, Annie also enjoys baking cookies, drinking coffee, and playing guitar.
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