Bessie decides to follow in her brother Harry's footsteps and becomes a dentist. She attends Columbia, where there were only "eleven women" and "six colored men" in a class of 170 (5.16.3). She was the only woman of color in the entire program.
Bessie and her sister Julia work at factories for extra cash. Bessie is treated worse than Julia because she has darker skin.
Bessie works hard and excels at dental school. She even manages to stay cool while dissecting a cadaver. (We would be pulling a Macaulay Culkin if we were her.)
Despite her obvious skills, Bessie is faced with tons of prejudice. One time she lets a white friend turn in work that had earned her failing grades and the white girl passes with flying colors.
During graduation, none of her white classmates even "wanted to march beside [her] in front of their parents" (5.17.30).