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About James Lai

Dr. James S. Lai is a Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Political Science.  Dr. Lai received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Southern California (2000) and his M.A. in Asian American Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles (1992).  Upon receiving his doctorate, he began teaching at Santa Clara University since Fall of 2000 and has been going strong since.

As an interdisciplinary-trained scholar, Dr. Lai’s research interests and specialties include U.S. racial and ethnic politics, urban politics, multi-racial coalitions, California local politics, and Asian American politics.  Dr. Lai authored the book Asian American Political Action: Suburban Transformations (2011 Lynne Rienner Publishers) that examines the rise of Asian American politics in small to medium size suburbs throughout the nation. He has also co-edited and contributed to the book Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy (2002 Rowman & Littlefield).  In addition to these books, Dr. Lai has published peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters on U.S. racial politics and Asian American politics such as the following: “Shifting Political Terrains in the ‘City by the Bay:’ Mayor Ed Lee and the Two Convergences of San Francisco Politics” (Journal of Chinese Overseas),” "Transforming Ethnic Politics: A Comparative Analysis of Electoral Support for and Policy Priorities of Asian American and Latino Elected Officials" (Asian Law Journal), and "Asian Pacific American Campaigns, Elections, and Elected Officials” (PS: Political Science & Politics). 

In 2015, He was one of three scholars selected for a Research Fellowship at APIAVote!, a national non-partisan organization in Washington, D.C. that works with partners to mobilize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation, where he will be conducting research on Asian American elected officials from 1978 to 2015.

Dr. Lai is also a frequent commentator on contemporary racial and ethnic politics in state and national media such as National Public Radio’s “California Report” and “Forum,” the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and CNN.

Dr. Lai served as the Director of the Ethnic Studies Program from 2008 to 2015. 


2019 - Present Professor, Santa Clara University Department of Ethnic Studies
2007 - 2019 Associate Professor, Santa Clara University Department of Ethnic Studies

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  • Ethnic Studies 185: Seminar in U.S. Racial and Ethnic Politics in American Cities
  • Ethnic Studies 142: Asian American Communities
  • Ethnic Studies 153: Minority Politics in the United States
  • Ethnic Studies 40: Intro to Asian American Studies


2000 Ph.D. in Political Science, University of Southern California
1992 M.A. in Asian American Studies, University of California at Los Angeles

Contact Information

Phone - 1-408-554-5760
Location - Faculty Senate, St. Joseph's Hall 


Research Works (16)