’anyone selling tn?’: A deep dive into the covert chats that sway WashU student life

| Staff Writer

The rush begins bright and early in the week, as soon as the sour regret of the past weekend’s mistakes is replaced with anticipation for the next. All across campus, a stream of hundreds of notifications, all repeating the same scant and minimal sentence, formulated for maximum efficiency, fills screens. The messages ping in the back row of lectures, snake through the lunch rush Corner 17 line, and get swiped through during breaks between leg day sets at Sumers Recreation Center. The transactions are discreet and quick — as soon as a message is sent, a flood of responses arrive, and within minutes, identities are verified, and payments are sent off into the void of cyberspace, only to arrive back in the account of a peer, just a few buildings away, within seconds.

I am, of course, describing the ubiquitous “buying tn” and “selling” messages of “Party Tix,” a GroupMe chat currently 3,745 members strong. Made up of mostly Washington University students and the occasional essay bot pushing “revolutionary AI technology” for your next College Writing paper, the group chat facilitates the open exchange of tickets for any social event requiring them. The events range from sticky, sweaty club nights to black-box seats for cultural shows put on by WashU student groups. Party Tix is even a marketplace for concert tickets, whether it be a lowkey Weyes Blood set at the Pageant or a VIP pass for Olivia Rodrigo in Chicago. 

The chat originated in 2020 as a spin-off of a Class of 2024 GroupMe chat. Frustrated by the consistent rash of ticketing sale messages that clogged up the conversation, current senior Caelyn Walton-Macaulay took matters into her own hands by creating a separate chat specifically for ticket sales. Walton shared the link to the main group chat, directing the merchants and patrons of these events into their new pasture, quarantining the ticket sales to its own forum. Thus, “Party Tix” was born. 

Walton-Macaulay didn’t stick around to see the results though. 

“I made it, and then I gave ownership to the first person that joined. I was like, ‘You’re the captain now.’ I left,” she said.

Uninterested in the events being advertised, Walton-Macaulay initially created the chat for pure utility and the peace of mind of fewer notifications. Still, the influence of the group bloomed into something unexpected. As more and more members joined, with friends adding friends, “Party Tix” established its presence as a cornerstone of the WashU social scene. 

“Even if you’re not in the chat — and I wasn’t for two years — I still heard about the things going on in it. Word gets around, and I guess people really like talking about people selling tickets,” Walton-Macaulay said.

Eventually, Walton-Macaulay was tempted to rejoin the chat. Coincidentally, she’d become friends with the person she’d originally passed the chat along to and asked for administrative power back. Ever since, she’s been an observer of the unique culture she inadvertently helped establish at the beginning of her college career.

Senior Nirvan Patel Masini gained his administrative powers in a similar fashion to Walton. Irritated by spam, Patel Masini reached out to a group admin to ask to be booted out. Instead, the admin granted him the power to do so, and he’s held the position ever since.

Despite being relatively unmoderated, the chat has naturally developed its own culture. The typical buying and selling messages are sent out, offers are received, and details are hashed out in private messaging. The procedure is typically as follows: verify the other party’s identity with a quick Instagram stalk, and commence with the exchange. If scammed, expose them in the main chat and get them booted out.

“Party Tix” is really just one of many online spaces that connect the diverse WashU population. Another popular chat, “Free Food WashU,” diligently reports every instance of leftover food available on campus, from donuts at a Bauer breakfast to even (in a slightly bizarre and highly public exchange) individual students making too much stir-fry and looking to share their dinner. Other GroupMe chats exist to sell meal points, organize airport rideshares, or find sublets. By extension, even platforms like the class Snapchat story, Sidechat, or even your dorm-floor Teams chat bring together students in a virtual, school-wide space.

That said, the semi-anonymity of these virtual chats within a limited student population can lead to strange situations when they collide with real life. During sorority rush, I DMed an associated organizer (someone I was supposed to be putting my most poised, professional, and pleasant persona on for) through GroupMe to ask a very serious logistical question. My properly capitalized, complete-sentenced request accented with real punctuation and even a paragraph break (what was this, an email?) was all for naught, though.

Because right above my miniature memo was a DM I’d sent months ago, a truly ghastly recording of the spun-out pleas of a desperate girl at 11 p.m. on a Friday night, fully glammed up and shivering outside for an Uber that kept taking a wrong turn, yet still desperately trying to buy a ticket to the event, even while en route.

“how much” I began, a succinct opener (you’re more than welcome to use that in your next Tinder conversation — just don’t credit me).

Three minutes later, I circled back around with a “30?” With still no response, I upped the ante with a “can u 40.” Classy.

Maybe I’m just a crazy economics major who has spent more time with demand and supply curves than real people in the past few weeks, but the unregulated dynamics of the open ticket market that have developed at WashU are fascinating to me. I have friends who buy extra event tickets if they can snag them early for the express purpose of reselling on “Party Tix.” On popular nights, the group buzzes with constant asks and offers, sometimes driving prices up to exorbitant amounts. On one particularly memorable Thursday, I spent the entire day seeking a ticket, only to be told by sellers that they really did have another buyer offering $50, $60, $80, a $100 for the ticket, and could I outbid them? On other days, supply far exceeds demand, and ticket holders are forced to bump their messages repeatedly in hopes of more engagement.

As with any gathering of thousands of strangers, the occasional conflicts are to be expected. In the past year, the group has been briefly used for frenzied political debates, student campaigns, and housing advertisements. Briefly is the key term here. These groups have simple, labeled-on-the-tin purposes, and messages diverging from said subject are usually quickly dismissed with a dogpile of snarky responses — though “Party Tix” appears to have become more lax in the hangover stage of the semester. The members of these groups take adherence to the etiquette with merciless intensity; just this March, a Student Union candidate who sent a campaigning message into the “Free Food WashU” chat found their missive roundly rejected by dozens of furious responses. The candidate was later disqualified from the race for improper use of the platform in campaigning.

As one incensed observer summarized, “BE QUIET. POST FREE FOOD OR DON’T SAY ANYTHING.”

Similarly, the “Party Tix” chat description simply reads, “Selling Melt, dont [sic] scam!!” Although sometimes the virtual world of the chat gets too close (or real) for comfort, the unregulated transactions taking place between essentially strangers require a degree of trust in the other party. 

In a world of rising individualism, in which we are increasingly encouraged to find individual solutions to our minor problems, these groups provide a space for students to find others with a matching double coincidence of wants (yeah, I took Intro to Macroeconomics). Why buy new furniture when you could get it from an overwhelmed graduating senior who desperately wants it out of their life? Instead of shouldering an entire $80 Lambert Airport to South 40 Uber ride, split it with the other people (easily identifiable by their WashU-branded airport attire) headed in the same direction. And why spend your meal points when you could snag some excess free food that would be going to waste otherwise? In times of need, these group chats allow people to turn to their communities for help.

Of course, these groups require a certain knowledge of their very existence — and a friend willing to add you in. Still, they are able to connect disparate crowds of WashU students for the same purpose. The events promoted in “Party Tix” are limited, but Patel Masini argues the chat actually facilitates a more equitable environment for weekend activities, mostly hosted by Pyramid Promotions, a local event organizer. If you have the funds (and the legal accreditation) for it, you can get into any Pyramid event with no frantic “I-thought-you-got-me-on-the-list” phone calls required at the door.

“It’s something to do. Greek life is very exclusive. You have to have friends in Greek life to be a part of that. And house parties [depend on] if you can find your scene. But I thought Pyramid [Promotions] offered something that everybody can access,” he said, making air quotes with his fingers. “It’s still not a very equitable thing, but it does offer wider access.”

Reflecting on her first-year experience, Walton-Macaulay says online forms of connection played an outsized role in facilitating socialization. The large class group chat allowed students to be kept up to date on school affairs and platformed discussion.

“We were [the] COVID class. Our first year was 2020. So it was just a way for us to be a little bit more in communication with each other,” she said.

Throughout his four years at WashU, Patel Masini has experienced a personal shift in his social life, moving from late nights spent out to more subdued functions.

“If you find your community, you’ll always have something to do. People at WashU are generally very friendly [for] the most part. If you want parties, you can party. If you want to hang out with friends, you have things to do with friends. But then, the ‘going out’ scene, at a certain point, gets too much. Maybe I’m just getting old. I’ve had a great four years [and] enjoyed my time here,” he said.

Cliche as it is, we are truly growing apart from each other, stuck in isolation-inducing technology. Within our limited virtual bubbles, we grow disconnected from our communities and identify more as individuals. But united in such chats under a singular purpose, these groups reflect that fundamentally, the WashU community is able to engage in mutually beneficial exchange. For a moment, two disparate individuals unify forces to work toward a common goal, whether it be a good time, cheap or free stuff, or just a sense of community.

But maybe I’m just pontificating about a group chat that’s used to sell cheap club tickets. Anyone selling Dos Thursday?

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