WILLIAMSBURG -- Last year, a freshman named Katie Koestner drew national attention to the 299-year-old College of William and Mary when she publicly claimed that she had been raped by a fellow student.

Today that incident -- which college administrators found to be a sexual assault, not a rape -- is still topic A along the brick sidewalks of this quaint Colonial campus where Thomas Jefferson once studied.

Although the case helped spotlight the problem of acquaintance rape at William and Mary and elsewhere, the 5,400 undergraduates here are deeply divided on the issue of Koestner and whether she was raped.

As Koestner, of Harrisburg, Pa., has taken her story to national talk shows, and most recently has sold her account to Home Box Office for a docudrama, the debate has become increasingly personal.

The school newspaper and an alternative conservative journal have been filled with attacks on Koestner's credibility, her motives and even her style of dress. Recently, more than 1,200 people have signed a petition asking HBO to drop the show or enlarge it to include the point of view of the man she accused of raping her.

"I'm not trying to stop it. I'd like to see the program expanded to cover all sides . . . . {Koestner} went on all those talk shows. I'd like to have his side out there," said the petition's sponsor, Heather Hall, a senior from Bena, Va., who has dated the accused man for more than a year.

College and law enforcement officials across the nation are grappling with the murky issue of date rape, which often comes down to one person's word against another's, because there usually is little or no physical evidence of force. A statewide survey of 5,000 female college students in Virginia last year found that 2 percent said they had been raped and 5 percent had been victims of attempted rape.

But nowhere has the discussion become so personal or so pointed as it has on this close-knit and gossipy campus, where students refer to each other as being "pro-Katie" or "pro-Heather."

"People that I've never seen will call me 'bitch,' 'whore.' They'll yell it out the car windows. They started throwing cups at my boyfriend," said Koestner, who transferred to Cornell University last fall to get away from the situation, but then returned to William and Mary in January. She said she missed her boyfriend, a William and Mary junior, and found Cornell too big. Also, the man she had accused of rape was required to withdraw last fall because of an unrelated incident.

"It has been a very destructive situation . . . that has pitted women against each other in a fairly hostile way," said Deborah Ventis, coordinator of William and Mary's women's studies program.

In recent years, more women at schools across the country have been speaking out about date rape. Students at Brown and Northwestern universities have even posted the names of alleged rapists on bathroom walls.

Such tactics have stirred angry reactions, particularly from men, including the accused, who deny having raped even when they acknowlege having had sexual intercourse.

And that is exactly the central dilemma in the William and Mary case.

Koestner and the accused had dated for about two weeks when they went to her room on the night of Sept. 30, 1990, and several hours later had sexual intercourse.

Koestner said she found the man's requests for sex "menacing," although he never physically threatened her. "I said no 12 times in the same night," she said, although she did not say no at the actual moment of intercourse because "I was just too tired."

The accused declined to be interviewed, but in a letter to the school newspaper, he wrote, "I was found guilty {by the school} not of physically forcing Ms. Koestner into sex, but only of putting emotional pressure on her."

Many William and Mary students say they don't think that a woman who gives in to verbal pressure -- rather than outright threats -- has been raped.

"Instead of saying, 'I did some stupid things and it was emotional pressure,' she gets on national television and says it was rape," said Liz Hall, 20, of Harrisonburg, Va., who signed the petition. "Emotional pressure is a problem, but you can't call it rape."

Others disagreed. William and Mary students "still want to hear that assaults only happen by a stranger in the dark," said sophomore Elisa Jaramillo, 20, of Burke, a member of the school's women's issues group.

Under Virginia law, rape is defined as sex "against {a person's} will by . . . intimidation," where intimidation means "putting the victim in fear of bodily harm." The law states that "intimidation may occur without threats."

Koestner also has come under fire from many on this conservative campus for bringing bad publicity to the school.

"It's unfair she's dragging the school's name down over an incident that's clearly questionable," said senior Todd Skiles, 21, of San Antonio. "People don't know us for Thomas Jefferson and 300 years of education. They know us for date rape."

Even worse, say many students, is that HBO is paying Koestner.

"I have problems with someone who would go sell her story," said senior Kimberly Pieslak, 21, of Wilmington, Del. "It makes it difficult for all women because it makes it look like a woman will cry wolf {about rape} and sell her story."

HBO Vice President Quentin Shaffer said Koestner is receiving an "insignificant amount of money" -- less than $20,000 -- for her story, which will be used as the basis of a half-hour drama expected to be broadcast in the fall or winter. HBO does not plan to use the school's name or that of the accused man.

The "only reason I want to do all this is so women feel they can seek out help and support," Koestner said.

Tentatively titled "No Apparent Bruises: A Case of Date Rape," the HBO show is one of six programs on topics such as bulimia nervosa and drunken driving, Shaffer said.

Prompted in part by Koestner's very public complaints, administrators have revamped the school's policies for preventing and handling sexual assault. Freshmen -- considered the most vulnerable -- were required to attend a 90-minute workshop on the subject last fall, the disciplinary policy has been made more specific and a sexual assault coordinator was appointed.

"The message that we are trying to communicate is that . . . a woman only has to say no once . . . . Your continuing to press {for sex} could lead you down a path that could land you before a judge," said Sam Sadler, college vice president for student affairs.

Female students, no matter what they think of Koestner, said they believe more needs to be done.

"During the light of day, people are very well educated and have well-thought-out opinions {about date rape}. But you get to the frats and things change," said Anne Fullenkamp, a freshman from Baltimore.

But male students have a different perspective.

"Personally, I'm scared to death," said freshman Dave Patton, 18, of Lynchburg, Va. "I've got a friend who keeps a mini-tape recorder beside his bed, and when he reaches over for the condom he turns it on. If she says yes, then he turns it off."