Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State student gains strength during study abroad in South Africa

November 24, 2015

South Africa was declared the "cradle of humankind" by UNESCO in 1999 because of the important human ancestral fossils discovered there near Johannesburg.

The moniker is also appropriate when describing the metaphorical rebirth Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton experienced while on a semester-long study abroad trip there.

"I believe I gained strength in South Africa," he said. "I learned people are people wherever you go, regardless of race."

Part of that newfound strength is being comfortable with who he is and not feeling pressured to fit into a preconceived ideal.

"I felt a renewed sense of self-value and worth there," he said. "My race and my skin color in Africa allowed me to share who I really was to a lot of different people. It really did not matter."

Indiana State Professor Arthur Feinsod, himself a graduate of three prestigious universities -- Harvard, University of California-Berkeley and New York University -- says Clayton is his most talented pupil.

Despite his warm and engaging personality, Clayton's intellect is something that has separated him at times from his peers, he said. In South Africa, Clayton was free to have philosophical discussions with his classmates of all races and backgrounds.

Of particular interest was what it means to be black in South Africa versus the United States.

To the former, "It means you are a part of a history and a tradition of struggle. But, in that struggle, there is hope, there is unity, there is grit, there is determination," Clayton said. "We (don't) have to lower ourselves to our predecessors' level. Meaning - we don't have to oppress anybody, we don't have to make them feel what we felt. It's about unity, it's about love, it's about progress and moving forward. That's being black in South Africa."

When it comes answering the black-in-America part of that question, however, the response is more questions.

"It's asking ‘Am I really of value?' ‘Am I seen equally in the everyday workforce? Or do you judge me based on what you see on television?' ‘Is there progress? Have we really progressed from the Rodney King riots in 1992?'" he said. "The dreams that Civil Rights activists felt in the 1960s -- was Martin Luther King right? Or was Malcolm X right?"

Clayton is one not to be confined by convention. Upon entering Indiana State, Clayton was a biology/pre-med major. He's good at science and did well his freshman year, but it just didn't seem to fit his four-year path.

Holly Hobaugh, coordinator of academic services and pre-professional advisor at Indiana State, recommended he consider an interdisciplinary degree.

"That really fascinated me. I didn't want to go into one particular discipline. I have an interest in history, a keen interest in philosophy, psychology, sociology," he said.

Clayton settled on a cultural communities studies program -- a design that combines his interest areas with African-American studies. While a medical degree is not out of the picture, Clayton said he wants to earn a Ph.D. first, perhaps double majoring in psychology and philosophy.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X "had an idea. They had a principle, and they followed it to the end. You remember them because they had the courage to say, ‘If you follow me, I have a vision or dream that life as it is right now is not where you need to stay. There's something better,'" Clayton said. "Maybe it's because I'm young now, but that's what I believe right now and I'm sticking to it."

A defining moment of his experience in South Africa came early when his luggage didn't arrive with him. To make do, he bought a couple of T-shirts, a pair of shorts, swim trunks and flip flops and washed them in the sink and hung them on a laundry line fashioned out of his belt.

After a week, he asked a friend to take him back to the airport to check if his luggage had arrived yet. He stopped once again at the main desk and told them his name.

"‘Mr. Clayton, we've been looking for you! Your luggage has been here since Tuesday.' Here's the thing: I got there on Wednesday. It was there the entire time," he said.

During the rest of his stay, he didn't wear half of what he packed and gave a lot of it away to the homeless. "That was the beginning of a long, adventurous journey while I was in South Africa," he said.

As a senior at Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis, he applied to universities all over the nation, including Southern Cal and Harvard. On their way back from a campus visit to Washington University in St. Louis, Clayton and his father passed by Terre Haute. His dad mentioned Indiana State is his alma mater.

Clayton started considering becoming a Sycamore after a personal tour of the campus by John Newton, the now retired executive director of the Indiana State University Alumni Association.

"I felt like it was a place I needed to be. I felt welcome, I felt appreciated," Clayton said.

Being offered the university's most generous award -- the President's Scholarship, which covers all tuition, provides premium housing and more -- sealed the deal.

"All of the other schools I was accepted, there would have been these huge bills I would have had to pay for tuition. That's not something I planned on doing," he said.

The scholarship also requires and provides assistance for study abroad.

"The experience has been phenomenal. I would not have been able to go to South Africa, meet the people I've met," he said. "Indiana State is a fine academic institution. Whatever you want to put into it, especially the honors program, you're going to get out of it."


Photos: -- Bryant Clayton of Indianapolis -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton poses for a photograph while studying abroad in South Africa. -- A photograph of South Africa by Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton. -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton of Indianapolis laughs during a trip to a Navajo reservation in Pinon, Ariz., in 2014. -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton of Indianapolis poses for a photograph with a Navajo woman during a trip to a Pinon, Ariz., reservation in 2014. -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton of Indianapolis poses for a photograph with other Honors students during a cultural exchange trip to a Navajo reservation in Pinon, Ariz., in 2014. -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton, back center, dances during a performance of "The Color Purple" in 2014. -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton, second from right, performs in "The Color Purple" in 2014. -- Indiana State University senior Bryant Clayton, second from right, performs in "The Color Purple" in 2014.


Writer and Media Contact: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Story Highlights

On his way to change the world, senior Bryant Clayton plans to pursue graduate school once he completes his interdisciplinary degree in cultural communities studies this spring.

See Also:

$2.38M grant aims to strengthen student support

School of Music to present Fall Choral Showcase

State biologists tapped for 8-year study of bats in Missouri

Bro-Fowler Duo with special guest Jimmy Finnie to perform Sept. 24

Jazz Piano Trio to perform Sept. 30