Kassandra Alberico ’17, who is the Equal Opportunity and Title IX Coordinator at Regis University, has incorporated lessons from MMA into her work. 

When Kassandra Alberico ’17 moved to Denver, Colo., after law school to start her role as the Equal Opportunity and Title IX Coordinator at Regis University, one of her first stops was a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym. “Everyone was in immaculate shape, and they were all clearly actual fighters,” she remembers. Alberico thought to herself: “This is someplace I can learn how to fight.”

Alberico had started doing cardio boxing during law school at Villanova to stay in shape, but she was interested in learning self-defense skills. Prior to her role at Regis, Alberico served as a prosecutor in Rochester, N.Y., where she handled misdemeanors. Throughout law school, she specialized in domestic and sexual violence cases. For a time, she helped prosecute child sex crime, sex trafficking, and sexual violence cases. “Unfortunately, one of the downsides of the job that I do is that you get a little skittish,” she says. “Knowing how to feel confident in any space was something I really wanted to have.”

MMA incorporates fighting techniques from many types of combat sports, such
as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and boxing. Alberico trains with two coaches to perfect moves like striking (using kicks and punches against an opponent) and grappling (grabbing and holding an opponent). She says that, while she hopes she never has to use these skills outside of the gym, having them ready gives her confidence as she moves about the world. So much so that she’s brought MMA to Regis in the form of free self-defense courses for students on campus. She sees them as a form of prevention, and her coach teaches them every semester.

Outside of MMA, Alberico spends her days working civil rights and sexual violence cases for Regis. Most of her job involves handling conflict resolution or dispute management among students, faculty, and staff at the school. “A lot of the cases don’t rise to violations of law or policy,” she notes. “A lot of it is conflict management and mediation, trying to make it so that people can move forward with the appropriate level of support.”

Portrait of Kassandra Alberico ’17 in front of building on the Regis University campus

Because Regis is a small institution, Alberico handles investigations and hearings as well as guiding clients through cases. Through all of this, she is a neutral third party. The majority of reports she receives are interpersonal conflict cases, where a person is accusing someone else of inappropriate behavior relating to protected class status. She also sees accommodation-based cases for people with disabilities. “A lot of times there is a gap in someone understanding how to implement accommodations appropriately,” Alberico says. It’s her job to help correct that understanding and refer people to the appropriate office, for example, the Office of Student Disability Services.

A small portion of her cases are sexual violence, domestic violence, and harassment cases. Most of these don’t happen on campus and are therefore outside of her jurisdiction, so Alberico steps into a support role for the victim throughout the legal process. That can mean providing on- and off-campus confidential resources like Regis’ victim advocate and violence prevention officer, a Denver-based domestic violence shelter, or a sexual violence clinic.

The self-defense courses also provide an avenue for dealing with the issue of sexual violence for college students. “I find that a lot of people don’t feel that they can advocate for their boundaries when it comes to sex,” Alberico says. “I try to pair self-defense classes with discussions around consent. Such as, the importance of asking for consent when you are the initiating party.”

She hopes these skills will help students feel confident in expressing their boundaries as well as prevent bad things from happening.

“Even if you have those tools, something can happen and it’s not your fault,” Alberico notes. “But knowing self-defense gives you a sense of security that I want everyone to be able to have.”

Advocacy work runs in Alberico’s family: Her distant relative, civil rights activist and lawyer Fred Gray, was a defense attorney for Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.