In 1957, Rice University implemented a residential college system, as proposed by the university's first president, Edgar Odell Lovett. The system was inspired by existing systems in place at Oxford and Cambridge in England and at several other universities in the United States, most notably Yale University. The existing residences known as East, South, West, and Wiess Halls became Baker, Will Rice, Hanszen, and Wiess Colleges, respectively.
Baker College, named in honor of Captain James A. Baker, friend and attorney of William Marsh Rice, and first chair of the Rice Board of Governors.
Brown College, named for Margaret Root Brown by her in-laws, George R. Brown.
Duncan College, named for Charles Duncan, Jr., Secretary of Energy.
Hanszen College, named for Harry Clay Hanszen, benefactor to the university and chairman of the Rice Board of Governors from 1946-1950.
Jones College, named for Mary Gibbs Jones, wife of prominent Houston philanthropist Jesse Holman Jones.
Lovett College, named after the university's first president, Edgar Odell Lovett.
Martel College, named for Marian and Speros P. Martel, was built in 2002.
McMurtry College, named for Rice alumni Burt and Deedee McMurtry, Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
Sid Richardson College, named for the Sid Richardson Foundation, which was established by Texas oilman, cattleman, and philanthropist Sid W. Richardson.
Wiess College, named for Harry Carothers Wiess (1887–1948), one of the founders and one-time president of Humble Oil, now ExxonMobil.
Will Rice College, named for William M. Rice, Jr., the nephew of the university's founder, William Marsh Rice.
Although each college is composed of a full cross-section of students at Rice, they have over time developed their own traditions and "personalities". When students matriculate they are randomly assigned to one of the eleven colleges, although "legacy" exceptions are made for students whose siblings or other close relatives have attended Rice. Students generally remain members of the college that they are assigned to for the duration of their undergraduate careers, even if they move off-campus at any point. Students are guaranteed on-campus housing for freshman year and two of the next three years; each college has its own system for determining allocation of the remaining spaces, collectively known as "Room Jacking". Students develop strong loyalties to their college and maintain friendly rivalry with other colleges, especially during events such as Beer Bike Race and O-Week. Colleges keep their rivalries alive by performing "jacks," or pranks, on each other, especially during O-Week and Willy Week. During Matriculation, Commencement, and other formal academic ceremonies, the colleges process in the order in which they were established.
The Baker 13 is a tradition in which students run around campus wearing nothing but shoes and shaving cream at 10 p.m. on the 13th and the 31st of every month (the 26th on months with fewer than 31 days). The event, long sponsored by Baker College, usually attracts a small number of students, but Halloween night and the first and last relevant days of the school year both attract large numbers of revelers.
According to the official website: "Beer Bike is a combination intramural bicycle race and drinking competition dating back to 1957. Ten riders and ten chuggers make up a team. Elaborate rules include details such as a prohibition of "bulky or wet clothing articles designed to absorb beer/water or prevent spilled beer/water from being seen" and regulations for chug can design. Each residential college as well as the Graduate Student Association participates with a men's team, a women's team, and alumni (co-ed) team. Each leg of the race is a relay in which a team's "chugger" must chug 24 US fluid ounces (710 ml) of beer or water for the men's division and 12 US fluid ounces (350 ml) for women before the team's "rider" may begin to ride. Participants who both ride and chug are referred to as "Ironmen". Willy Week is a term coined in the 1990s to refer to the week preceding Beer-Bike, a time of general energy and excitement on campus. Jacks (pranks) are especially common during Willy Week; some examples in the past include removing showerheads and encasing the Hanszen guardian." The morning of the Beer Bike race itself begins with what is by some estimations the largest annual water balloon fight in the world. Beer-Bike is Rice's most prominent student event, and for younger alumni it serves as an unofficial reunion weekend on par with Homecoming. The 2009 Beer Bike race was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bill Wilson, a popular professor and long-time resident associate of Wiess College who died earlier that year.
In the event of inclement weather, Beer Bike becomes a Beer Run. The rules are nearly identical, except that the Bikers must instead run the length of the track. Future members of Jones College or Will Rice College should know that the possibility of Beer Run is a part of Beer Bike, and should not be surprised or complain if a Beer Run occurs. The most recent Beer Run occurred in 2016.
A number of on-campus institutions form an integral part of student life at Rice. Many of these organizations have been operating for several decades.
Rice Coffeehouse finds its beginnings in Hanszen College, where students would serve coffee in the Weenie Loft - a study room in the old section's fourth floor. Later, the coffee house moved to the Hanszen basement to accommodate more student patrons. That coffeehouse became known as Breadsticks and Pomegranates. Due to flooding, an unfortunate effect of 1) its location in the basement and 2) the Houston climate, this coffee house closed. Demand for an on-campus Coffeehouse grew and in 1990, the Rice Coffeehouse was founded.
The Rice Coffeehouse is a not-for-profit student-run organization serving Rice University and the greater Houston community. Over the past few years,[when?] it has introduced fair-trade and organic coffee and loose-leaf teas.
Coffeehouse baristas are referred to as K.O.C.'s, or Keepers of the Coffee. Rice Coffeehouse has also adopted an unofficial mascot, the squirrel, which can be found on T-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers stuck on laptops across campus. The logo pays tribute to Rice's unusually plump and frighteningly tame squirrel population.