Ad promises U of I students 'You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses'

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- At first glance, it looks like any other email touting travel deals.

In this case, it was a bus company offering its services to students of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It listed several "perks": fast boarding, no baggage fees, and refundable tickets.

But it was item No. 7 that stunned students and forced the company, Suburban Express, to apologize.

It said: "You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses."

Of the 44,000 students enrolled at the school, as many as 5,900 are from China -- about 13 percent.

"These types of racist and bigoted statements attacking any members of our community deserve nothing but condemnation from all of us," the university said in a strongly worded statement.

The bus company runs shuttles from several colleges to the Chicago area.

It sent the ad on Saturday via email to publicize routes it was offering for the winter holidays.

A short time later, Suburban sent a second email it titled "Apology" -- but the message didn't sound apologetic.

The email said that because the university is a public school, it should be "providing high-quality, affordable education to the citizens of Illinois."

The statement also said the original remark was made "based on the fact that our competitor mostly handles Chinese international students." It didn't name the competitor.

The statement ended with, "In any event, we did not intent to offend half the planet."

The Asian Pacific American Coalition called the emails "dehumanizing and disgusting to our Asian classmates and friends" and stated the group did not accept Suburban Express' "racist non-apology."

CNN reached out to Suburban Express for comment and is waiting to hear back.

Suburban Express posted this statement to its Facebook page Sunday evening. It was removed sometime before Tuesday morning. Here's the full text:

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.


WLS-TV contributed to this report.

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