As a radio in the background interupted disco music with the latest news from the Mideast, 45 college students huddled in a tiny dormitory room here Wednesday night to form the kind of campus group that hasn't been seen for nearly a decade.
Their organization, the George Washington Students for Peace, is just one of a number of student groups that have cropped up on area campuses in the last week to oppose President Carter's call for a new draft registration.
The very real possibility of the draft has dominated campus talk over the last few days -- in classroom discussions, forums, and formal meetings and informal conversation in hallways, cafeterias and student lounges.
Students have been trying to plot ways to lobby against the president's proposal -- unveiled in the State of the Union address a week ago Wednesday. p
But Randy Hecht, an organizer of Student Peace Coalition, another antidraft group at GWU, said, "This is by no means the return of the 'age of Aquarius.' There was a rally (against registration) in Lafayette Park Monday and you saw students in trench coats with briefcases on their way to work. I mean these were kids interested in having jobs, but not interested in being drafted or going to war."
Student opinion on the issue is by no means unified.
No student government or student paper in the Washington area has taken a stand on the president's proposal yet. And a poll of 72 students by the Georgetown campus paper showed that most supported registration and would be willing to serve if called up.
Yet in a scene reminiscent of campus antiwar activities during the Vietnam years, Georgetown students greeted Sen. Edward Kennedy on campus Monday with huge banners hung from their dormitories and signs reading, "Draft Beer, Not Students," and "No Draft." They cheered when Kennedy, in a major address in his presidential campaign, attacked Carter's plan to revive registation.
Two days later, 30 GWU students staged a march around campus, chanting "No Draft" and "We Won't Fight Jimmy's War." Later the same afternoon, a fledgling group called Students for Peace met to being planning a series of "teach-ins" to tell students what their options would be in case there is a new registration -- and eventually a draft.
Yesterday at the Hotel Washington, the American Student Association -- which represents 400 colleges and universities -- sponsored a forum entitled "Draft Registration; What To Do On Your Campus To Stop It." About 200 students attended.
Last night, the association also sponsored a debate between White House and Defense Department officials and antidraft activists.
Students at Howard, American, and Catholic universities also are organizing forums and rallies on the registration issue.
"There are lot of seniors and juniors against the draft registration. They are the ones who remember the Vietnam war years. They had brothers in the war," said Brendan Duffy, who helped organize the rally at Georgetown when Kennedy came.
Duffy said one of the students who attended a meeting to plan the rally wore a coat that he said had belonged to a brother killed in the Vietnam war.
Like most of the local students involved in the antidraft activity, Duffy said he believes if the registration goes through, an actual draft will soon follow. The students interviewed also said they believe the situation in the Persian Gulf is not serious enough to warrant military action.
"I can't see dying for a barrel of oil," said Tim Curry, a student in the Catholic University peace studies program.
The budding antidraft movement is appearing just months after college students, in a dramatic contrast to their Vietnam-era counterparts, waved American flags and talked about "standing up for America" in reaction to the taking of hostages in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Tracey Hughes, a member of the student government at Georgetown, and one of the students who spoke then of the need for students to stand behind the United States during the Iranian crisis, said that she now opposes a draft registration.
"I don't think you can force patriotism," Hughes said.
Nevertheless, like many other women students who oppose draft registration, Hughes said she thinks women should be registered along with men if registration is required.
At Catholic, American and George Washington universities, women students have taken the leading role in opposing registration. Many said they felt that, on principle, women should be included in any registration.
"I think if women were to be registered and would say no, this would make it easier for men to say no. There's a certain amount of power in numbers," said Karen Windorf, who helped organized Students for Peace at George Washington.
Underlying the students' concerns is a real fear that this country will end up going to war.
"Quite frankly, I'm afraid," said Howard Graubard, a political science major at George Washington. I'm afraid that 1980 is going to be like 1939 . . . Americans are tired of that inferiority feeling they got from the Vietnam war and they're looking for a show of strength."