Barry McNamara  |   Published December 14, 2021

‘If You See Something, Say Something’

Monmouth political psychology class examines how 9/11 phrase changed everyday life.

CLASS PROJECT: Students in professor Andre Audette's political psychology class surveyed more... CLASS PROJECT: Students in professor Andre Audette's political psychology class surveyed more than 1,200 people throughout the United States this semester.MONMOUTH, Ill. – The phrase “if you see something, say something,” is closely linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Its origins are traced to the day following the attacks, Sept. 12, 2001, and to New York advertising executive Allen Kay, who is credited with coining the phrase.

This semester, a Monmouth College political psychology class became interested in how the phrase “impacts everyday life and social situations,” said the professor who teaches the class, Andre Audette.

“While there have been reports that the phrase has led to discrimination against Arabs and Muslims in the United States, we wanted to see if the effects would be felt in other situations involving racial and ethnic minorities, as well,” said Audette.

“We hoped to test whether or not being primed with the phrase ‘If you see something, say something’ makes individuals more likely to find others suspicious and to take action against them,” said Shay Hafner ’23 of Sterling, Illinois, one of Audette’s students.

“We hoped to test whether or not being primed with the phrase ‘If you see something, say something’ makes individuals more likely to find others suspicious and to take action against them.” Shay Hafner


The class conducted a nationwide survey experiment on Amazon Mechanical Turk, gathering data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. In total, Audette and his students had 1,216 respondents. Each respondent was assigned a scenario involving potentially suspicious behavior and was asked how they would respond.

“We could then see if exposure to the phrase leads them to behave differently,” said Audette. “We found that such exposure does lead people to be more likely to act, especially in our fictitious scenario involving a Hispanic woman. It also leads to differences in people’s attitudes about individuals from other races. Interestingly, the phrase also seems to be more effective among women respondents, making them more likely to respond across our different scenarios.”

“These findings are important to our lives, because evidently we still live in a nation where racial and ethnic discrimination taints our perceptions of individuals.” Ezzie Baltierra-Chavez


Ezzie Baltierra-Chavez ’22 of Denver said the groundbreaking research by her and her classmates have potentially wide-ranging implications.

“These findings are important to our lives, because evidently we still live in a nation where racial and ethnic discrimination taints our perceptions of individuals,” said Baltierra-Chavez. “Not only does it taint our perceptions, but it also hinders our political progress for policies that are inclusive and socially aware of the challenges that these minority groups face.”

Audette’s students helped select the topic, develop the experiment and analyze the results.

“This survey provided a unique opportunity for students to collect original data and contribute to the field of knowledge in political psychology,” said Audette. “They are the first to work on this particular research area, which may lead to opportunities to continue developing the results for publication in an academic journal.”


‘Hands-on research’

Two of Audette’s previous political psychology classes have used surveys, as has one of his public opinion classes. Those surveys looked at perceptions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, political consumerism and the effect of social media on U.S. politics.

“Monmouth is a great place to get hands-on research experience in a number of different fields, whether it is working individually with a faculty member on a project or collectively as a class,” said Audette. “The ability to work closely with students on these projects is one of the major benefits of a liberal arts education at Monmouth.”

“Politics here is so much different from what I know from the Czech Republic. It’s a bit crazier here, I think. But this class helped me find some order and reasons about why things are the way they are here.” Michaela Jelenová


International student Michaela Jelenová of the Czech Republic found the project to be helpful as she acclimates to U.S. society.

“Politics here is so much different from what I know from the Czech Republic,” she said. “It’s a bit crazier here, I think. But this class helped me find some order and reasons about why things are the way they are here.”

Baltierra-Chavez said she hopes the issue will be at the forefront of students minds’ much longer than the end of the semester.

“In further understanding why we act and respond the way we do in potentially difficult situations, we can begin to have real conversations as to what needs to be done in order for us to make decisions that are best for the majority,” she said.

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