In September 2021, a professor at the Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada announced that she would be rendering all text on the website of the office of indigenization and decolonization [sic] in lowercase letters (with the exception of Indigenous words) as part of an ongoing effort of "historical-cultural recognition" for Indigenous peoples. Linda Manyguns' announcement came shortly after the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves where Indian children were buried at a boarding school in Canada. Manyguns wrote:
this is a beginning effort at describing the use of lower case on the website of the office of indigenization and decolonization.
Indigenous people have been actively engaged in a multidimensional struggle for equality, since time immemorial. we strive for historical-cultural recognition and acknowledgment of colonial oppression that persistently devalues the diversity of our unique cultural heritages.
"the explicit demonstration and practice of aboriginal culture in everyday life or at places of resistance is called by academics 'eventing.'"
As news outlets covered this announcement, many using rage-bait headlines such as "Capital letters are now ‘officially racist’" (no, there has been no official declaration that capital letters are racist; this was one professor at one university using lowercase text to "resist acknowledging the power structures that oppress"), we started to receive queries about yet another capital letter "scandal."
Did a University Ban Capital Letters To Avoid Scaring Students?
This query refers to a memo from 2018 that was grossly distorted as it made headline news. This university, Leeds Trinity University in England, never banned capital letters.
In November 2018, the Daily Express got hold of a memo that was supposedly sent to staff at Leeds Trinity instructing them to "write in a helpful, warm tone, avoiding officious language and negative instructions." This article, entitled "University lecturers told DON'T USE CAPS as it frightens students," contained several quotes from this memo. None of the provided quotes used the word "capital letters," however, nor did these provided quotes state that capital letters should be avoided because they scared students. The outlet paraphrased the sections involving capital letters.
Course leaders say capitalising a word could emphasise "the difficulty or high-stakes nature of the task".
Generally, avoid using capital letters for emphasis and "the overuse of 'do', and, especially, 'DON'T'."
One portion of the memo did mention anxiety. However, this section stated that a "lack of clarity" can generate anxiety, not capital letters.
This report led to a number of misleading articles that claimed capital letters had been banned in one form or another. Some sites claimed that the University had ordered teachers to stop using capital letters, others claimed that the University issued an all-encompassing ban on capital letters. The common thread was that this "ban" was issued because capital letters were "triggering" or scaring students. None of this is accurate.
For one, this memo was referring to ALL-CAPS TYPING, not the simply use of capital letters at the start of a sentence or for a proper name. Second, the reason for this memo was to improve clarity for students, not to avoid scaring students with WORDS. Third, this was a memo offering guidance, not a mandate. And lastly, this memo did not impact how students rendered text. In short, Trinity University never banned capital letters.
In November 2018, Trinity University published a statement attempting to clarify the controversy. The university explained that this memo was based on "national best practice teaching guidelines" and that it was referring to the "unpacking sessions" teachers have with students when handing out assignments. The purpose of these guidelines was to make sure students were "clear on what is expected" for the assignment: