Dorms Declassified: What are Units?


My freshman unit, UNIT 18 (I know, our slogan was pretty weak) at Unit Wars.

Hello! My name is Alejandra (Ali) Gatas Johnson and I am your Dorms Declassified: Brown Survival Guide blogger.  Living in a dorm with a roommate was one of the things that I was most excited but also nervous about for college. This blog is to help ease the concern and provide insight on residential life at Brown.

“I don’t know anyone.” “There are so many new faces, how will I make friends?” “I don’t want to be the odd person out.” These concerns are on everyone’s mind their first day of college (some may act like they don’t have these worries, but I guarantee these concerns are there… pinky promise).

This anxiety doesn’t last long. You will soon find that most people are SUPER kind and welcoming. One of the best ways Brown fosters new friendships is through residential units. Residential “units”are communities comprised of 40 to 6o first year students. A unit may be two adjacent hallways or floors, depending on the dorm building.

You get to meet and know your wonderful unit during orientation weekend. Orientation is packed with activities and unit meetings that all first years are encouraged to attend. It is a super packed and tiring weekend, but it is a great way to get to know the people you’ll be spending the next year (or years) with.

Every unit has 3-4 residential peer leaders (RPLs) who create and foster a living and learning environment. They aren’t like the typical RAs at other colleges. They are super low-key. They aren’t there to enforce rules or ‘parent’ you. Instead they are friendly, open support systems that happen to live near you. They are knowledgeable about classes, college life, resources, health, etc.

The RPLs are comprised of Resident Counselors (RCs), Minority Peer Counselors (MPCs), and Women Peer Counselors (WPCs) who work together to provide their residents with information about campus resources/opportunities for conversation around academic, wellness, and diversity topics.

The Residential Counselor, RC, is the general RPL who focuses on common issues such as roommate conflicts, academic questions, extracurricular activities, social life, etc. A Women’s Peer Counselor, WPC, is knowledgeable about gender and sexuality concerns and questions. They are there to provide resources and help advise residents if a situation arises. Finally there is the Minority Peer Counselor, MPC, who is there to help students belonging to minority groups with their specific questions and concerns.

All of the RPLs, no matter their specific designation, are there to help you and are trained under all of the categories. You can still go to your WPC if you don’t identify as a woman, and to your MPC if you do not identity as a person of color.

As far as everyone else in your unit, they are the people that you will be sharing spaces and living with for an entire unit. You will see them in all states of being. They are the first people you will meet and are great potential friends. Not all units are super close as a whole group, but you are more than likely to become close friends with at least a few people from your unit.

At the beginning of first semester, big groups of people from a unit will go to dinner together and have late night conversations together in the lounge. I know that I had many movie nights with members of my unit. Units are great first communities.

You have the opportunity to get close to your unit during orientation and Unit Wars. Unit Wars are a Brown tradition in which units compete against one another in activities like watermelon eating, human pyramid, tug-of-war, water balloon toss, and so on. It is a great chance to bond freshman year. If your unit fails to win many competitions, do not fret. You have a chance to avenge your losses senior year during Senior Week, a week where seniors are the only students on campus before graduation. During Senior Week, units from freshman year meet back up and compete in Unit Wars all over again.

I had a good experience with my unit. We weren’t extremely close to each other, but it was nice to be friendly with the people closest to you geographically and feel comfortable to reach out to them if you need something. Some units are closer than mine was and some less. Units are not the end all be all for friends at Brown, but they are a great opportunity to make some initial friends.

Officially, units are just a group of people that live on the same floor as you and RPLs people assigned to your unit. However, units are so much more. They are the first people you meet, the faces and names you know first. And they make the college transition far easier.

If you have comments or questions about this column or anything related to Brown, please email me at 


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