Tag Archives: UCLA

Getting Bruinized in the Fountain


L was born and raised in Sun Valley, Idaho. She is 20 years old and moved to Los Angeles to attend school at UCLA; she is now a sophomore. 

The context of this piece was at a little coffee shop at UCLA. I was visiting my best friend for the weekend. I asked her if she had any folklore to share with me and she excitedly told me all about a special ritual that UCLA partakes in every year.


“I mean at UCLA there’s a fountain that you’re supposed to get “bruinized” at where you touch the water once and say some crazy chant and you’re not allowed to touch the water again until after you take your last final. Otherwise you won’t graduate in 4 years…during freshmen orientation you’re supposed to wade in or touch the water. If you touch it again before your last final as a senior it’ll add an extra quarter before you graduate. After you take your last final people usually go and swim in it to celebrate.”


UCLA hired Howard Troller to design a foundation on their campus; he used this as an opportunity to create something that was architecturally different from other fountains that “just squirt water into the air.” He designed an inverted fountain that flows inward into a large bed of rocks (handpicked by Troller himself.) Troller finished the fountain on March 18, 1968 and ever since, the fountain has been the location where UCLA students host one of their biggest traditions. During freshman orientation, freshmen are “initiated” by touching the water. They are then told to not touch the water again until they graduate; if they touch it before, it is said to be a bad omen – it may even add an extra quarter to their academic career.

UCLA Gesture “Fours Up”


“At all of our sports games we would do “fours up.” You would hold up four fingers.”


MM is a 24-year-old American Missionary from a town in the middle of California. She attended UCLA for college, and I asked her if there were any specific UCLA sports traditions that she remembered. She wasn’t sure what this tradition meant – she said she just walked into it and that originally, she thought it was for fourth down in football but then they did it at basketball games too. She ended up looking it up and telling me it was for the four letters in UCLA. 


This example of a tradition that you take part in but don’t know what it means is probably pretty common in places like a college. When you get to college, you are thrown in to a bunch of traditions that everyone else seems to know, and you are often on your own to figure them out. When everyone else seems to understand a tradition, it seems silly to ask about it, so it’s better to just pretend. This can show us how important it is in our society to fit in and avoid doing things that could put you in the outgroup. It also shows us how traditions and their meanings could evolve – if my informant told someone else their theory of the meaning behind “fours up” being for fourth downs in football, that meaning could spread as well if other people didn’t know what it meant. And certain traditions can take on different meanings for different people, even if born out of the same context. Even if looking up what “fours up” means would be an easy solution, our tendency is to try to figure it out ourselves because we want to take part in the tradition naturally so we can really feel like a part of the group. 

Trojan Knights: Victory Bell Rivalry

Context: UCLA and USC are both in LA, easily turning them into rivals for most of their history. Trojan Knights member and previous Archivist MF describes the tradition of the Victory Bell and the Knights’ role in its folklore. 

Main Piece: The origin of the Victory Bell was in 1939 when it was presented to UCLA from their alumni association as a gift. The UCLA spirit team would bring it to every game and would ring it after every point scored for the next few seasons. MF says that “this was back when USC and UCLA both used the Coliseum as their field, so some Knights pretended to be a part of their spirit team and they helped them load up the bell… and they got the keys and stole the bell.” After the Knights stole the bell for USC, they hid it around LA and made it a tradition so they could prevent UCLA from reclaiming it. The bell has supposedly been hidden in “a fraternity basement, Hollywood Hills, Santa Anna, and at one point under a haystack, kind of being hidden everywhere to try and keep UCLA from getting it back.” 

The theft of the Victory Bell began a prank war between USC and UCLA. MF recounts that a UCLA student dropped manure from a plane onto USC campus. In retaliation, some USC students printed thousands of fake issues of UCLA’s weekly newspaper which praised USC. The students then replaced all of the real newspapers with their fake ones. The presidents of both universities realized the harm that the war was doing to the city and the student body, so they put an end to it by establishing an agreement that, at the rivalry game every year, whoever won would get the bell (and if there was a tie, whoever had it before would keep it). This was a peaceful resolution to the prank war, and it also renewed the Knights’ direct role in the tradition of the Victory Bell.

The Trojan Knights have the responsibility of bringing the bell onto the field and presenting it to the rival team whenever they play. They also keep the bell in hiding rather than in Heritage Hall, where USC stores its other trophies. The Victory Bell’s tradition was originally to keep it hidden, so MF stated that it would be inappropriate to flaunt it. As a part of the tradition of the bell’s transfer, Whenever USC gets it, they paint its frame Cardinal red, and when UCLA gets it, they strip the paint and paint it blue. In addition, whenever USC gets the bell, the Knights do a Bell Tour, where they bring it to every event they can, from other sports events to incoming student orientations. 

Thoughts: The Victory Bell adds some legitimacy to the otherwise arbitrary importance of USC’s rivalry with UCLA. Because either school can take pride in a full year with the Victory Bell, it becomes a special kind of trophy that makes winning more exciting and losing all the more painful. I think that the Knight’s role in the tradition of the Victory Bell, though they may merely be its bearers, is an important one. They are still the organization at USC that interacts the most with its traditions, and their school spirit can be a unifying force for the whole student body. 

Trojan Knights: Rivalry Week and Tommy Watch

Context: The week of the football game between LA rivals USC and UCLA is known as “Rivalry Week” or “Conquest,” and during it the students of both schools spend the whole week getting excited for the big game. Rivalry Week has a history between the schools of serious pranks being committed, many of which are detailed in other archive posts. Informant MF, a member and prior Archivist of the Trojan Knights, instead describes the traditional measures that the Knights take to prevent pranks.

Main Piece: During Rivalry Week, the Trojan Knights practice the tradition of Tommy Watch. Informant MF says that it probably started during the 40s, since that was the height of the prank war between USC and UCLA. Even after the prank war ended, there’s still a lot of tensions around Rivalry Week because “if someone’s gonna do something stupid, they’ll do it then.” During Tommy Watch, the Knights will set up a tent around the Tommy Trojan statue on Trousdale Parkway and cover him (as well as other prominent statues on USC’s campus) with duct tape to prevent anyone from painting or messing with him. They also build a dog house for the George Tirebiter statue to protect him since he’s on the edge of campus. 

The Knights will then guard Tommy Trojan and Traveler for the entire week. Knights take shifts so they can stay 24 hours a day for the whole week, and as a community students and faculty will bring the Knights on Tommy Watch food. To MF’s knowledge, Tommy Watch has always successfully stopped prank attempts during Rivalry Week, and so the tradition continues to prevent future pranks that might cost the school thousands in damages. 

Thoughts: I think that Tommy Watch itself is a good representation of the good that can come from heated school rivalries. While pranks are flashy, they’re also damaging and can easily go too far. Tommy Watch allows the USC community to work together with the Knights to protect the icons that USC maintains, thus furthering the feelings of school spirit between students. 

Ice Blocking

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Interviewer: Tell me about ice blocking, if you don’t mind.

Informant: Okay, ice blockiiiiiiiiiiing, is a thing at – I don’t know uhh… Okay. At UCLA we have like a – not really like the typical college quad, but we have Jan’s Hill which is like – not even a central part of campus but just like – the most grassy open place you can sit, and it’s just, like a hill near Royce which is like, the iconic building of UCLA. That’s where people like sit in-between classes during the day and have picnics and stuff, but at night, a lot of people in like, clubs or just like as a group of friends will go and do something called “ice blocking” which is… people will go to Ralph’s and get like a big block of ice that’s like… a foot long and six inches tall and wide – and then you go to this hill, you start at the top – and you sit on it, and you just slide down the hill on the ice as far as you can. I don’t know who thought of this first or where it started but the first time I did it was like, as a part of my sorority, and then – once you like, have done ice blocking it just seems so obvious to do it and you just ask people if they’ve done it and their like “What? No!” or they’re like “Obviously” and it’s just like shows whether someone has really gotten the like full UCLA experience or not. Cause then if they haven’t done it you can be like, “Oh then we should go sometime!” I’ve only ever done it twice, once with sorority and once with ADPI [Alpha Delta Pi]. But it’s… Oh those are the same things – once with sorority and once with my apartment’s – when we first all moved in together. So it’s just like something silly to do. And… it seems kind of hard to sit on this block of ice but – you have to sit on it so that it’s long-ways down and not wide and then you can use a towel so your butt doesn’t get so wet, but then in the summer it’s better to not because it’s hot and you want to be cooled down anyway. And then you just – have to put your feet up in a little like, ball position and then you just slide as far as you can but you have to stop before you hit the bushes or else… you’d be pretty screwed. And with my roommates one tried to do it standing up like surfing and they did like – literally somersaults down the whole hill. 

Interviewer: …Who was that? (laughing)

Informant: (Laughing) It was [name redacted]!

Interviewer: Oh my god.

Informant: And also [name redacted], I think, maybe.

Interviewer: That’s crazy.

Informant: I don’t know what else to say about it really.

Interviewer: Oh no that’s cool, you can just- is there anything like…

Informant: (sighs) it’s not a competition, really, because you only ever have like – well, i guess – actually I’ve seen-

Interviewer: Is it for like special occasions?

Informant: Yeah. Like for sorority, we did it like, as one of our first bonding activities when we all joined. And then for like, my roommates we did it as the celebration of us all moving in to our new apartment. So a lot of clubs do it as like a bonding activity I feel like.

Interviewer: …Is it allowed?

Informant: It’s not not allowed. No one’s ever been stopped for it. Like people also will have picnics where they drink on that hill and that’s not allowed because it’s a dry campus but they still do that anyway- and often… the two activities will be combined. (laughing)

Interviewer: (laughing)

Background: My informant is Senior in College who grew up in Southern and then Northern Illinois. She comes from a family of middle-class background. She goes to UCLA, and therefore has adopted a mix of midwest and west coast folklore.

Context: The informant is my sister, and she gave me this piece in a more research oriented setting, as she was the first person I collected from and I was determining the best way to go about the process still. She was very loose by this point in our long conversation, and our conversations always include humor.

Thoughts: This is a good example of a piece of folklore (specifically a tradition – maybe even an initiation ritual, though that categorization is a little more of a stretch) that seems absurd from the outside. At least, from my perspective, knowing nothing about the steepness of this hill especially, this activity sounds either rather boring and weird or entirely too dangerous. Apparently though, it is a common activity on any given night at UCLA, and I’m sure if I went there I would be all for it.