CHAMPAIGN, IL — A bus company that shuttles students from the main University of Illinois (UI) campus around the Chicago area is facing criticism from some for a promotional ad promising customers they would be riding with “Passengers like you. You won’t feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.” That promise was one of 11 “perks” offered to students who chose Suburban Express over other bus services.
The ad, sent via email on Dec. 2, was met with anger from many on the campus.
Suburban Express said it “made a remark based on the fact that our competitor mostly handles Chinese international students,” adding, “The remark is being interpreted as a slap in the face of all non-caucasians for some reason, and that it not how it was intended.”
The apology email also criticized the way UI handles admissions for foreign students and incorrectly claimed nearly 20 percent of students are from China, according to the Chicago Tribune, which put the figure at 12 percent.
Later, Suburban Express issued another statement. “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,” said owner Dennis Toeppen.
The ad came at a time when the UI community continues to cope with the disappearance of a Chinese scholar. Yingying Zhang, 26, arrived at the university last April and vanished in June. The FBI has said it believes she is dead, and a Champaign man is charged with lying to agents about her disappearance, as well as one count of kidnapping resulting in death.