James A. Vela-McConnell

Sociology Chair, Professor

CB 40
Curriculum Vitae

James Vela-McConnell has been teaching in the Department of Sociology at Augsburg University since the fall of 1997. He received his bachelor’s degree, majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology, from Loyola University in New Orleans, graduating at the top of his class in 1990. At Loyola, he received the Dux Sociologicus Award—“Leader in Sociology.” James received his master’s (1993) and Doctorate (1997) degrees at Boston College, where he also won the Donald J. White Teaching Excellence Award for Sociology in 1996 and was a Fellow of the Ford Foundation in 1996-1997. In April of 2023, he was granted the Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Augsburg University, becoming the first and only member of the Augsburg Faculty to be recognized with all three of the Distinguished Contribution Awards—for teaching, scholarship, and service.

James’s areas of specialization are social psychology, social inequality, and qualitative research methodology & feminist epistemology. His current research focuses on (1) the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and police brutality, specifically the murder of George Floyd and (2) the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, which he’s examining through the lens of organizational stigma and secrecy. He recently presented “Disparate Experiences of Collective Trauma: Gender Differences in the Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown” at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society. His paper, “Behind Closed Doors: Organizational Secrecy, Stigma, and Sex Abuse within the Catholic Church” was published in Oppression and Resistance: Structure, Agency, Transformation, volume 48 (2017) in the series Studies in Symbolic Interaction.

Previously, James examined friendships. His essay, “The Sociology of Friendship” appears in the second volume of The Cambridge Handbook of Sociology (Cambridge University Press, 2017). In his book—Unlikely Friends: Bridging Ties and Diverse Friendships (New York: Lexington Books, 2011)—he examines those rare friendships that cross the socially constructed boundaries of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, and ability.

James also wrote Who Is My Neighbor? Social Affinity in a Modern World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999). This book was nominated for the C. Wright Mills Award, the highest honor for a sociology book published in the field of social problems. Finally, his master’s thesis, “Reflections on the ‘Death of Marxism,’” appears in the book What’s Left: Radical Politics in the Postcommunist Era (by Charles Derber, et al., Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995).

In addition to these scholarly activities, James has conducted assessment research focusing on curricular inclusion, equity, and diversity at two institutions. In 2019, he was asked by St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, with the financial support of the Carnegie Mellon Foundation, to conduct assessment research which produced a report titled “Inclusion and Diversity at St. Olaf College: An Assessment by Students.” The following year, he completed a similar project at Augsburg University, completing a report titled “Curricular Inclusion and Diversity at Augsburg University: An Assessment by Students.”

Throughout his research endeavors, James makes a point of including students in the process, typically with the support of URGO (Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunities) and McNair Scholars Programs here at Augsburg University. The University recognized his efforts in 2012, awarding him the Distinguished Contributions for Excellence in Mentoring and Scholarship—the first and only time the University has granted a dual award (in both scholarship and service/mentoring).

Professor Vela-McConnell’s service activities include serving as a member of the ASA Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants (ASA DDRIG) Review Committee, a member of the ASA Honors Program Advisory Panel, as well as a member of the GenEd(it) Design Team at Augsburg University. In addition, he has served as an at-large member of the Faculty Senate and an at-large representative on the Senate Subcommittee on Academic Affairs. He also served on the the Senate Subcommittee on Faculty Personnel Policies for 12 years, co-chairing it for three years and chairing for an additional four years. He chaired the Department of Sociology for six years, served as Chair for the Division of Natural and Social Sciences for two years, and has served on numerous search committees as well as the Benefits Advisory Committee. In the larger community, Professor Vela-McConnell served for two years as the Diversity Colloquium Facilitator for The Collaboration, volunteered for the AIDS Action Committee in Boston for six years, and delivered meals for Open Arms of Minnesota for over 18 years.

James currently resides in downtown Minneapolis with his spouse, Matthew McCright. When he’s not teaching, he enjoys reading fiction, traveling, recreational cycling, and flying kites.


  • B.A. Loyola University, Alpha Kappa Delta, Alpha Sigma Nu, and Summa Cum Laude
  • M.A. Boston College
  • Ph.D. Boston College

professional Affiliations

  • American Sociological Association
  • Midwest Sociological Society
  • Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction