About 1,200 college students from around the nation yesterday took a step toward building a campus-based movement against the Persian Gulf War by adopting a common platform, forming a national steering committee and setting Feb. 21 as a date for nationwide protests.

The student activists, in town for the anti-war march held Saturday, held a sometimes contentious conference at Sidwell Friends School on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

The political platform adopted contained six general "points of unity." It called for an end to the war, the disengagement of U.S. troops, an "end to all occupation in the Middle East" and "a sustainable energy policy." The students, most of them from east of the Mississippi River, also stated their opposition to racism and a military or "economic draft," a phrase used by some to describe voluntary military service because they believe many poor people see it as their only avenue out of poverty.

Several students complained there was not enough time to debate the platform, which was approved as drafted by a delegation of student leaders. The provision that passed with the smallest majority concerned occupation of territory in the Middle East. Some students supported the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, while a smaller number backed the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait.

The pro-Iraqi contingent, numbering perhaps a score and identifying themselves as members of a socialist group, caused an early dispute by displaying a banner that some students said was inconsistent with an anti-war movement. It read: "Victory to Iraq! Defeat U.S. Imperialism!"

Leslie Watson, a student from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., who chaired the sessions, opened a discussion early in the meeting about removing the banner from the Sidwell Friends gymnasium. But Watson cut short a debate and allowed the banner to stay after some students shouted that its removal would be censorship and undemocratic. Others chanted: "Peace, not victory."

For lack of time and order, the students adjourned without voting on about 50 proposed amendments to the platform that addressed such issues as a cease-fire, the impeachment of President Bush and solidarity with Arabs. The meeting often fell into loud bickering over procedural points and pet proposals of various leftist groups represented.

"I thought there was agreement on the demands despite the contentiousness," said Pierre Barolette of the United States Student Association, who helped organize the national meeting.

The conference also agreed to form a steering committee composed of one delegate from each student or youth organization that endorses the National Student and Youth Campaign for Peace in the Middle East, the umbrella group formed last December. Currently, those organizations total 42 and include different school groups and others based on ethnic origin or political ideology.

The national day of protests was set for Feb. 21 because it is the anniversary of the 1965 slaying of Malcolm X, the black activist. Some dissented about the date because they associated Malcolm X, who advocated black self-defense, with violence.

"The everyday person thinks of Malcolm X as violent, which is the antithesis of our {anti-war} view," said Joe Shanahan, a sophomore at Brown University in Providence, R.I., who like most of the delegates is white.

Until now, student anti-war protests have been coordinated by regional groups based in major cities, and some students left the conference skeptical of the national organization. "I think there are too many factions to build this {movement} from the top down," said Laura Bauer, a Brown junior.