February 9, 2003
NEW YORK -- The threat of war with Iraq has sparked debate on U.S. college campuses, but those conversations seem more likely to happen over a late-night pizza than at an antiwar demonstration.
Students and college administrators say a couple of factors help explain why colleges have been relatively quiet as the United States has built up its military forces near Iraq: Many students feel ambivalent about a war, and some say this is a generation that's willing to listen to the other side.
"I'm not doing any activism except in my own head," said Kirsten Rockwood, a junior at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
She considers herself neutral on Iraq, having heard good arguments on both sides of the debate.
"I've talked it over with friends, but I haven't burned any flags or my bra or anything like that," she said.
"Among members of the older generations, the 1960s divisiveness lives on," said Dan Lee, a religion professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.
"But among today's students, it's just an entirely different approach, an entirely different mindset, a different degree of rationality and careful consideration of the issues. And a commendable degree of openness to different opinions."
Francesca Fiorentini, a New York University sophomore whose antiwar activities recently led to her arrest outside the United Nations, is frustrated that students aren't more vocal -- especially if they're taking an unpopular position.
"Everybody thinks we're the MTV culture that sits around playing video games and aspiring to be pop stars or CEOs," Fiorentini said. "That's not totally true. Some of us understand that dissension is a central form of democracy."
University of Richmond president William Cooper said several other ingredients also are keeping campuses quiet, including a fear that government opposition in the wake of the terrorist attacks is unpatriotic and, most importantly, the absence of the military draft.
The Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., the former Yale University chaplain who played a major role in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era, agreed.
"The war was on and the draft was on," he said. "There was an immediacy about the situation that doesn't apply to college students now."