Applicant is the story of one man’s journey into an Ivy League recycling bin and the humorous and cringe-inducing files he finds there. While searching through a bin for magazines, Jesse Reklaw happens upon the discarded confidential Ph.D applicant files for the biology department of an Ivy League school between the years 1965 – 1975. He organizes the pocket-sized book by photograph and an interesting blurb about the person provided by the recommendation letters of former professors.
Some are simply funny because of the combination of picture and quote, like a well-groomed woman said to “lack a certain amount of poise.” Others are painfully funny in what they reveal about the culture at the time, particularly towards women and people of color, notably Miss M who was praised in her recommendation for overcoming any environmental handicaps she may have faced as a black person in an almost exclusively white class. It is hard to judge whether this statement is meant to praise her ability as a student or her ability to keep up with white people.
Another woman’s weakness was as follows “she is a female and an attractive, modest one so is bound to marry.” While women were subjected to scrutiny for their potential to become wives and mothers, men faced criticism for being too lazy or rebellious. One male applicant was described as “a very bright underachiever with sharp elbows, and I wonder whether he was majoring in house-keeping and girls.” Despite all of the heavy analysis that can be gleaned from the book, it remains an amusing to read. I got more than a few giggles and hearty laughs out of it.