Hopkins chaplain braces for students fearful of draft PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

January 28, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

As a student at Kirkland College 20 years ago, Gretchen van Utt saw how devastating the draft can be. Today, as chaplain of the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, van Utt is bracing for a possible return of the draft and her biggest challenge as a counselor to the 10,923 students.

Since the Persian Gulf war broke out on Jan. 16, van Utt and her assistant William P. Tiefenwerth have attempted to ease the fears of worried students, faculty members and parents who have flocked to their bright, comfortable office on campus.

The fears persist despite the repeated insistence of federal officials that there are no plans to shift from an all-volunteer army and reinstitute the draft.

The Hopkins counselors have scheduled workshops on anything from how to be a conscientious objector to understanding the Islamic culture and even body and mind therapy peace meditation sessions.

But van Utt, 39, a United Church of Christ minister and self-described anti-war activist, says her advice to the students goes only so far.

There is a fine line between her experiences as a college student in the 1970s and the conservative perspective of the college student, circa 1991.

"These are students who have never experienced war and who are real goal-oriented, achieving people," said van Utt. "They don't want to be selfish, but they think, 'My God, can this affect me? All this time I've put in in school, plans for graduate school and professional work?' "

It is an interesting viewpoint, van Utt said. It makes her listen closer and try to understand the gap.

"For me, it's hard knowing that my life can go on as usual, that ~~TC can maintain my routines. I think we should be out there doing something about it," van Utt said. "But our mission is to challenge the status quo and promote peace and justice. I am very much opposed to the war but I need to be accessible to a broad range of students.

"I just let them talk and I try to keep some perspective. I need to be sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of students who disagree with me. And so be it."

At a Hopkins peace vigil last week, only 60 students turned out to demonstrate, an average number compared with recent protests on campuses around the state.

There were a few Hopkins students who attended a large rally at the Fifth Regiment Armory the day after the war broke out, which van Utt said made her proud.

Their work load is increasing daily by the demands of counseling for war stress.

In their office, Tiefenwerth counsels some students how to open a file to apply for conscientious-objector status. As a draft counselor trained by the American Friends Service Committee, she also helps a graduate student obtain some information for a younger brother and gave direction to a faculty member.

"People are thinking in 'what if?' modes," Tiefenwerth said. "Women students are starting to put together conscientious-objector files. A lot of people aren't taking anything for granted."

Van Utt and Tiefenwerth say that in the upcoming weeks they will prepare for what they predict will be droves of students seeking counseling.

"It's a big crisis," van Utt said. "The potential is there for everybody to be touched by this and, in that respect, it's the biggest challenge we've faced here. It makes it very demanding on our time -- it's going to be a long semester."

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