Student Says NY Times Reporter Donald McNeil Jr. Told Her on Peru Trip: ‘Racism Is Over’

McNeil departed the paper earlier this month after reports he said the N-word on a trip with high schoolers

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A student on the New York Times’ infamous 2019 trip to Peru said that Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr. declared “racism is over” in a conversation with her — in addition to his widely reported use of the N-word that led to his ouster from the paper earlier this month.

Sophie Shepherd, who had just graduated from Phillips Academy Andover when she went on the summer trip, told the Times media columnist Ben Smith that McNeil behaved like a “grumpy old guy” but made a series of provocative statements to her and to other students.

According to Shepherd, McNeil told her at one point, “It’s frustrating, because Black Americans keep blaming the system, but racism is over, there’s nothing against them anymore — they can get out of the ghetto if they want to.”

Shepherd also recalled McNeil’s use of the N-word in a discussion about racism — which prompted an almost immediate reaction from her fellow students.

A second on the trip told Smith: “I’m very used to people — my grandparents or people’s parents — saying things they don’t mean that are insensitive.  You correct them, you tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to talk like that,’ and usually people are pretty apologetic and responsive to being corrected. And he was not.”

Smith also noted that none of the students on the two-week trip, which cost $5,490 not including airfare, were Black. In addition, he reported that the paper does not plan to continue with sponsored trips for students when pandemic restrictions lift.

In his column, Smith also explored “morality plays” that have gone on within the Times as it reckons with “a thriving digital subscription business that makes the company more beholden to the views of left-leaning subscribers.”

Debate about McNeil’s resignation has played out in both the newsroom and online. Some within the organization are angry that the paper’s leadership knew about the accusations in 2019 and did not discipline McNeil hard enough at the time, though Sunday’s column reveals the Times’ employee union fought “aggressively” to protect him at the time. Others decry the ouster as an example of “cancel culture.”


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