Practice Reports

Identity, racial cognizance, and intercultural competence: Students’ collective identities in the virtual literary classroom




COIL (US/Spain), American literature, intercultural competence, identity and race, intersectionality


This practice report describes a Virtual Exchange (VE), Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) experience (US and Spain) titled Identity Matters: Culture, Ethnicity, and Race in Literature. It describes the formation of students’ individual and communal identities in the virtual literary classroom. The Spanish students were perusing a BA in English Studies, and the American students were studying various Arts and Sciences BA degrees. Both courses were based in American English literature, so this VE course was conducted in English because the Spanish students were required to do their coursework in English. Students read American short stories/poems about the identities of American/American immigrant characters from different racial backgrounds: African American, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinx. The texts portrayed characters dealing with identity crises: racial, ethnic, and types of discrimination in contemporary American society. Students were prompted to discuss their individual identities and, when placed in a group, their communal identities with identity charts, in relation to the characters’ identities and discriminatory experiences. However, although some students discussed race (social/biocultural construct) in their individual charts, racial cognizance was missing in the group charts and they discussed differences in terms of ethnicity (national/cultural: ancestry, language, beliefs). Additionally, because of these results, we believe that intercultural communication in VE should create/provide a space for race cognizance, among international identities, to better understand the different contexts of stereotypes, prejudices, racism, and/or discrimination experiences that make up all identities participating in VE. We therefore suggest Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Intersectionality Theory and Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory are possible building-block solutions to this dilemma.


Author Biographies

Sharmain van Blommestein, State University of New York (SUNY) Potsdam

Dr. Sharmain van Blommestein is the Chair of English, Associate Professor of Medieval/Early Modern Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, Race and Literary Theory, and COIL Coordinator at State University of New York (SUNY) Potsdam.  Her research focuses on the literary/cultural history of the body, self-harm, race, identity, intercultural competence, and instructional/universal design in F2F/VE learning. 

Andrea Roxana Bellot, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)

Dr. Andrea Roxana Bellot is a Research Fellow at Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain. She is actively involved in teaching literatures in English and cultural studies within the Department of English and German Studies. Her primary research interests center around war representation, gender identity, intercultural competence, and COIL.





Practice Reports