Controversial Ads and Apologies from a Transportation Company

When students from UIUC checked their mailbox on the morning of December 2, the advertisement email from Suburban Express, a local transportation company of Champaign-Urbana, drew their attention.

“You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on your buses.”

This controversial advertisement kicked up a stink in students. But then, the “Apology” email caused even vigorous discontent and rage both inside and outside the campus.

In the “Apology”, Suburban Express tried to show that they didn’t intend to abuse Chinese students. However, in this email, the company attacked Chinese students once again and challenged the policy of international students, saying that the policy” places a variety of burdens” on local students. However, like students from other states, international students pay twice more than local students and are accepted by the UIUC equally as local students. And as the data from university shows, total Chinese percentage (excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) is 12%, but not “Nearly 20%”. The fake words provoked angers in the public. On December 2, Daily Illini posted the article of the editors on their homepage, Shame on Suburban Express, refuted the fake information in the “Apology”, and stood for the students in UIUC. In the evening, Chinese Students and Scholars Association(CSSA) published the statement We Boycott the Discrimination on the official account, and on Tuesday, they published the joint statement with Asian students’ associations like Taiwanese Student Association (UIUCTSA), Korean Students Association (UIUCKSA) and else, denounced Suburban Express.

International students also stood out to protest this company. They started a petition on We the People, and warned other students histories of this company. On December 3, Suburban Express sent out another email, saying that “Suburban Express welcomes students of all nationalities on our buses”. However, once again, they did another controversial statement,

“Suburban Express riders would not encounter Chinese exchange students on our buses.”

This time they changed the word, from Chinese students to Chinese exchange students, and pretended that they were just describing the truth but not intending to offense Chinese students, without any apology for what they did in “Apology”. However, on 3rd December, the student affairs office of UIUC published the Statement in Response to Suburban Express Ad,

“The university has no business relationship with this company. Their vehicles are not permitted to pick up or drop off passengers on university property.”

The influence of the emails kept a lid on unrest. On Monday, main-stream medias started covering this incident. Illinois attorney general announced they have stared “issued a subpoena to a transportation company over potential civil rights violations”.

Under the pressure, on December 5, Suburban Express published another article “Suburban Express Full Apology”. This time they admitted that they were” offensive” and “inexcusable”. However, they still used the word “Chinese exchange student”, without any apology to the whole group of Chinese students. This is the last apology email since then.

What’s more, as Chicago Tribune said, in 2013 Dennis Toeppen sued 126 students because of “Violation of the rules”, like “Took the wrong bus” and else. The company chose the Ford County, 30 miles away from the campuswhich was inconvenient for students. And they did the same thing since 2013, but the Student Legal Services helps students fight Suburban Express lawsuits, as Daily Illini reported.

For now, there have been various protests from the RSOs and Students Government, like calling for companies to refuse to provide advertisement service for Suburban Express. However, for now there has been only one statement from student affairs office, without any mass emails from the board of UIUC, and on the homepage of Suburban Express, there is still a picture with UIUC on it.

Logo on their homepage


However, many local students still don’t pay much attention to this incident. In a discussion meeting of this incident, we found that local students don’t know much about what Suburban Express has done. And, because of the coupons and relatively low price of their service, many students still choose to take the buses of Suburban Express. As a student who took the bus of Suburban Express/Illini Shuttle Bus said,

“I knew what happened, but I just wanna go home.”

The controversial comment and advertisement from Suburban Express is damaging the basic value of this university and community: Diversity, respect, harmony. What we do is trying to stop the future damage to our community. Suburban Express refused to the interviews, and they have no comment on this.

Written by Zihan Wang, University of Illinois