The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has condemned a bus company for an ad they claim to be “racist.” On Sunday, the university charged the busy company Suburban Express with expressing opinions that “are offensive, bigoted, insulting and in direct opposition to the values of this university.”
The privately-owned Suburban Express provides shuttle service in the Chicago area. Now, they’ve been put on blast by a nearby college for an ad that was sent out to students. The ad addressed the students as “Passengers like you” and suggested, “You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”
Suburban Express “distributed an advertising message that once again demonstrated the company’s disregard and disdain towards the values of inclusivity that define our university,” according to a joint statement from three university officers.
The bus company has since apologized for the ad, saying that their intention was to target a competitor, not as a statement of racism. However, it has not named the competitor they were targeting.
“We made a remark based on the fact that our competitor mostly handles Chinese international students,” said Suburban Express in their second e-mail addressing the incident. “The remark is being interpreted as a slap in the face of all non-Caucasians for some reason, and that is not how it was intended.”
“In any event, we did not intend to offend half the planet,” said the bus company at the end of one of their e-mails regarding the controversy.
The Asian Pacific American Coalition has also condemned Suburban Express’ bus ad, labeling it as “dehumanizing and disgusting to our Asian classmates and friends.” The coalition also remarked that they would not accept the bus company’s “racist non-apology.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign maintains the position that Suburban Express expressed opinions mirroring a full-blown racist.
“We cannot prevent a private company from operating in our community,” said the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But we can, loudly and unambiguously, say that the opinions expressed by Suburban Express are offensive, bigoted, insulting and in direct opposition to the values of this university.”
On Sunday, Suburban Express released a statement to their Facebook page, publicly apologizing for their bus ad that has been called “racist” by both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Asian Pacific American Coalition.
“Suburban Express welcomes students of all nationalities on our buses.
Suburban Express was founded in 1983 by a sophomore U of I student who was dissatisfied with transportation options on campus — schedules, equipment quality, driver attitude, and other attributes. Since the founder was a student, he knew exactly what students needed and wanted, and he took on Greyhound and other companies and won.
Suburban Express grew and grew, and the University of Illinois grew and changed. As the University changed, Suburban Express services changed. Computerized ticketing, automated ticket machines, and then Internet ticketing were introduced — before other companies even considered them.
Along the way, Suburban Express encountered cheaters who cost Suburban Express and its customers thousands of dollars — bad check writers, people who reverse credit card charges for services they used, people who made and used counterfeit tickets. Suburban Express believed that it would be doing a disservice to the world if it did not hold the budding new adults who cheated it responsible for their actions.
Suburban Express has therefore consistently held students to their commitments and promises. This approach has not been popular with cheaters. With the advent of social media, a small number of cheaters have the ability to amplify their complaining and anger, and convince other cheaters that they have been wronged. Suburban Express has received many black eyes over holding students to their commitments and promises.
In 2013, an employee of a subcontracted bus company made an inappropriate comment to a non-english-speaking customer. We agreed that the comment was inappropriate and we promptly apologized. Nevertheless, a student agitator made it his full-time job to tell the world that Suburban Express is racist based on the comment which we agreed was inappropriate, and for which we apologized. He filed a lawsuit against Suburban Express and went so far as to convince Highland Park Police to arrest the founder, for online comments which the agitator himself may have posted. The judge in the matter, who found the founder not guilty, essentially stated that she had no reason to believe that the agitator had not posted the comments himself.
Unfortunately, the 2013 episode caused many students from countries in Asia to abandon Suburban Express and ride a competing company. We were very saddened by the loss of those riders. We meant them no harm, and we felt we were being unjustly punished.
When we wrote a recent promotional email, we mentioned that Suburban Express riders would not encounter Chinese exchange students on our buses. That’s because they all ride our competitor now. It was an ill-advised statement to make, because it upset the very people we were sad to have lost.
Suburban Express welcomes students of all nationalities on our buses. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to further their own agenda.
We apologize for our insensitive statement, and we hope to do a better job of unifying the campus community in the future, from our office in the heart of campustown.”